Youth Homelessness Discussed in Same-Day Series of Local and National Panels

National panel discussion group of November 17, 2015.

This article originally appeared on the Family and Youth Services Bureau website.

Federal officials joined with community organizations and leaders across the nation November 17 for a first-of-its-kind film screening and policy discussion on ending youth homelessness. Co-hosted by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the event welcomed hundreds gathered online and at 10 locations across the country to discuss what is needed to better identify and serve this population.

The conversation began with a screening of “The Homestretch,” a documentary following the lives of three homeless young people in Chicago. Director Anne de Mare joined the audience in Washington, D.C., to lend her support for increased awareness.

Strengthening Federal Coordination

After the film, participants tuned into a national panel featuring Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) Associate Commissioner Bill Bentley, along with representatives from HUD, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). Panelists spoke about their agency’s individual and coordinated efforts to connect youth with programs that can increase stability in multiple areas of their lives.

Over at DOJ, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention supports mentoring programs that match youth with caring adults as well as police collaborations designed to identify commercial sexual exploitation, said Administrator Robert Listenbee, Jr. Similarly, the Department of Education works to enforce the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which spells out homeless students’ right to an education.

Federal panelists also reaffirmed their commitment to working with each other, so that young people can access multiple services more quickly and easily. “We want [homeless young people] to know that we value and appreciate their resilience and that we are committed to ensuring they’re not struggling alone,” Bentley said.

Elevating Community Needs and Efforts

Following the national panel, attendees at the nine other event sites participated in local dialogues with community leaders and advocates. In Philadelphia, for example, Department of Human Services Commissioner Vanessa Garrett Harley shared the city’s focus on connecting foster youth to family members and other adults connected to their well-being. Finding these permanent connections early on, Harley says, can prevent future homelessness and reduce the challenges of serving an “invisible" population that doesn’t want to be found.

Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr., who helped established Philadelphia’s programs for the homeless during the 1980s, called on attendees to bring more attention to an issue that he says is unknown among most city residents. Several audience members heeded his cry, calling for follow-up discussions on incorporating youth into the city’s plans to end homelessness.

Philadelphia’s plan for continued dialogue echoed the call to action made by federal officials roughly an hour earlier. As Bentley shared, “We need to build momentum around the issue [of ending youth homelessness] to try to get people to want for homeless youth what they want for their own [children].”

Access the recording of “The Homestretch” federal panel. (The panel discussion begins just before the 11-minute mark.)

Read the “Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action" (PDF, 803KB).  

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