Moving Beyond Time Limits for Homeless Youth

people shaking hands, close up

As we collaborate to end youth homelessness in 2020, it’s important to understand what works for young adults and create related services. For some young people, spending the night in an emergency shelter or a year in an agency-owned apartment provides enough support to get back on their feet. But for youth battling substance abuse or seeking stability after a lifetime of trauma, the best strategy may be to offer housing without time limits, says Preble Street Associate Director Jon Bradley.

Bradley and colleague Charlotte DeTroy joined an August 13 webinar to discuss First Place, the Portland, Maine-based agency’s foray into long-term supportive housing for youth. The webinar also featured Colleen Jackson, whose agency West End Residences opened New York City’s first permanent supportive housing option for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

Here are some of Bradley, DeTroy, and Jackson’s tips for adding non-time-limited housing options to your agency’s array of youth services.

  • Make a case to private funders. Preble Street started First Place with funds awarded by a local foundation that wanted to help certain youth who were “getting stuck” in the agency’s shelters or who didn’t do well in site-based transitional programs. Sitting down with local funders gives agencies a chance to discuss the benefits of scrapping time limits, Bradley says, and to discuss ways to evaluate ongoing programs.

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  • Know the federal funding landscape. To help offset the cost of building 30 studio apartments in Harlem, West End Residences turned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Their True Colors Residence program qualified for Low-Income Home Tax Credits—which help agencies acquire, fix up, and build rental housing for low-income tenants. The project also used Section 8 rental assistance awarded to owners who lease their properties to low-income renters. Agencies can also explore vouchers that promote rapid re-housing, assist homeless people with disabilities, and more. 
  • Keep partners on the same page. First Place works closely with community agencies that offer everything from mental health and substance-use counseling to pro bono legal services. These collaborations work, Bradley and DeTroy say, because of a mutual commitment to relationship-building and reducing young people’s barriers to service. Establishing a shared service philosophy early only, they add, reduces potential conflict.

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  • Get help finding residents. Both agencies recommend asking for help to identify young people most likely to benefit from housing without time limits. True Colors Residence receives referrals from New York City’s Departments of Youth and Community Development and Homeless Services, and from local community-based organizations. Preble Street turns to its youth emergency shelter and drop-in center, where staff members build rapport with teens seeking out meals or a safe place to rest. Getting to know young people individually helps the agency find strong candidates for First Place and to provide other services to youth who can thrive with a less intensive program.

Learn more about First Place and True Colors Residence. Listen to the Non-Time-Limited Housing for Youth webinar hosted by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

9-5 pm Eastern