Side By Side: Syracuse's Close-Knit Homeless Programs Work Together to Get Youth Into Housing

A 17 year-old boy showed up to the Salvation Army youth shelter in Syracuse, New York, on the run from a gang in a nearby city. He had no place to go, no friends to stay with, and his mother, who had fled home with him, was seeking her own place in an adult homeless shelter. For Tom Roshau, director of youth services for the Syracuse Salvation Army, the challenge was two-fold: getting a young man acclimated to a new environment and getting him reconnected with his nearby mother.

Luckily, Roshau’s agency is part of a longstanding and close-knit partnership, the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Started in 1986 to avoid overlaps between the region’s homeless service providers, the coalition has grown into a way for agencies to share resources, give each other ongoing support through monthly meetings, and most importantly, improve housing outcomes for young people and homeless adults.

The young man and his mother, for example, might have been subject to two completely different programs’ requirements and timetables. Instead, they were reunited and placed in housing relatively easily, requiring only a few phone calls between the shelters and a quick coordination with housing agencies.

Every city can create this banded-together approach, and many already do, since the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care grants foster this kind of community-building. But the Syracuse group stands out for both its longevity and interconnectedness. The coalition shares data and intake assessments across nearly four-dozen housing, law enforcement, and treatment agencies, ensuring that any person seeking services is sent directly to the most effective provider in the region.

Constant Contact

Housing options are never far from reach for youth-serving agencies in the city. “The Coalition’s Coordinated Entry Committee works to move the most vulnerable individuals out of our shelter and into our housing programs as fast as possible,” says coalition coordinator Melissa Marrone.

That committee, and a dozen others that make up the coalition, meet regularly, as often as once a month, to share information.

“These are people that I sit across from multiple times a year,” says Roshau. “When there are issues or things to resolve, we’re calling people we’re quite close to.”

Collaboration as Mentorship

One of the hallmarks of the Coalition is the close collaboration it fosters between youth- and adult-serving agencies. This makes for easier family reconnection, as in the case of the relocated mother and son who entered the Salvation Army, because the adult and youth agencies are on the same page and experienced at managing cases together.

Roshau says that since the adult homeless support network is wider and serves more people, service providers from those agencies have often served as mentors to Syracuse’s youth-serving agencies as well.

“They’ve helped us make difficult decisions that defunded programs that weren’t working, or help us redefine a target population,” he says. “As we met monthly over the years, it evolved from a competition [for funding] into a real network of mentor agencies that understand the relationship between the populations.”

As a result, Syracuse’s youth have immediate access to the city’s adult programs once they age out of youth agencies.