Ending Youth Homelessness by 2020: What RHY Providers Can Do

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Cover page of Opening Doors report.

Ending youth homelessness by 2020 is a key goal of Opening Doors, the federal government’s program to end homelessness, which was launched last year. Earlier this fall, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Barbara Poppe spoke directly to staff of runaway and homeless youth programs in a webinar meant to introduce them to Opening Doors and inform them about what they can do to help the government reach its goal. 

The webinar included guest speakers Willie and Courtney, both homeless, who described their experiences on the street and the ways that Lighthouse Youth Services, in Cincinnati, OH, has helped them survive without a permanent residence. Bob Mecum, President and CEO of Lighthouse, also spoke about his agency’s efforts to serve homeless youth, including nightly street outreach and a HUD-sponsored transitional living program.  

Many of the practices that USICH endorses are already familiar to youth-serving homeless programs. But a growing library of research has pointed out the effectiveness of four practices in particular:

  • Prevention: “A lot of this work is about family stabilization and discharge planning,” Poppe said. As youth exit juvenile justice systems and institutional settings, they need to reenter situations that are safe and stable.
  • Emergency Shelter: As any trauma-informed youth worker knows, not every youth has a family or safe place to turn to. With the caveat that funding is always an obstacle, Poppe noted the importance of emergency resources in the fight against youth homelessness.
  • Family Reunification: This “plays a far greater role among youth than it does in other homeless populations,” according to Poppe.
  • Rapid Re-Housing: Research shows that a quick transition to non-shelter living is better than a drawn-out one, and those youth who receive some form of rental assistance or transitional support typically make a better adjustment to independent living.

Poppe offered the following advice at the conclusion of her webinar:

  • Get your community on board with Opening Doors. Get them to commit to a goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020, if not sooner. Help make the case for increased investment and smarter use of the local resources so that we create real solutions for youth.
  • Challenge yourself and your agency. Don’t assume at this moment that you are doing the best that you can.
  • Apply the best practices that have been learned from other service providers, and look for evidence-based practices.
  • Form non-traditional partnerships so you can better engage homeless youth: local businesses, libraries, police, religious organizations.
  • Get involved in your community through volunteerism, meetings and public events. Networking is essential for meeting potential partners and building a community effort to fight homelessness.
  • Make sure that you are involving homeless youth in everything you do.

Next week, the Beat will include an exclusive Q&A with Poppe, in which we dig deeper into issues brought up in the webinar.

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