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Q&A:How Ending Veteran Homelessness Can Help Homeless Youth (Part 2)

A homeless young person sitting with a homeless veteran.

Last month, we shared part one of our interview with Matthew Doherty, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, or USICH. First authorized in 1987, USICH leads the federal response to homelessness as laid out in Opening Doors. We spoke to Doherty about U.S. efforts to end veteran homelessness and how that work is informing the goals of ending family and youth homelessness in 2020. Here, we publish part two of that conversation, which also features USICH Policy Director Jasmine Hayes.

NCFY: Do you use a specific definition for homeless youth?

Doherty: Different federal agencies use different definitions. USICH is working to use the differences between agencies’ data and information to get a more complete picture of the unique circumstances and challenges different youth face. For example, youth who are either living on the streets or being served within shelters and traditional housing programs are counted within the point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness within the community—at a specific point in time. The Department of Education data counts these youth as well, but also includes those who are living in motels or doubled-up situations and reports all youth identified as living in such situations over the course of the school year.

Having that full information better allows us to know the scope of needs within the community and to tailor the interventions and response. Our concern is that if we moved to one definition, we would actually lose the complete picture and distinctions among living situations.

[Revisit scenes from Washington, D.C.’s 2015 point-in-time count.]

NCFY: USICH recently released guidance on implementing a coordinated community response to end youth homelessness. What other youth-focused resources or initiatives are you working on in 2016?

Doherty: We are developing and disseminating tools and resources that will allow communities to take the vision of that coordinated system and assess where they need to make more progress. What elements do they need to shore up locally and how do they begin to strengthen their own local system?

We are also projecting the resource needs necessary at the federal, state, and local levels, and working to further engage some of the mainstream systems that serve youth—especially focusing on the child welfare, juvenile justice, and school systems—to help them play even greater roles with their community partners in ending youth homelessness.

Finally, we’re working closely with HUD and HHS to implement new resources appropriated by Congress in the [fiscal year] '16 budget to provide technical assistance and project-specific funding to communities to strengthen their systems and begin to test and innovate youth service models.

[Check out ‘Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness: A Coordinated Community Response.']

NCFY: Can you describe what a coordinated response looks like?

Hayes: Coordinated response is looking holistically at the response to homelessness in a community. It’s designing systems that start with prevention and continue all the way through to actually ending homelessness for young people. And it is linking the different systems that we know young people are connected to, so that a response to homelessness includes school systems, and for many young people, child welfare, juvenile justice, and health and behavioral health systems.

Rather than having different responses, it makes more sense not only for the young person, but also for the systems themselves, to be aligned in terms of the outcomes they’re trying to reach and how they’re actually delivering services. Our guidance pulls all of those different programs together and lays out for a community what the different components are. For example, within the components of early intervention and identification, we’re thinking about the different programs that impact that work. And as we look at the assessment of what young people need based on their unique circumstances and strengths, approaching the issue with a coordinated response means ensuring that they’re connected to tailored services or interventions.

Some youth are going to need a lighter touch in terms of just making sure they have connection to, for example, education or vocational training programs. Others may need longer-term behavioral health support. And on the front end, which is really looking at the prevention piece, we’re working to determine how best to divert, where safe and appropriate, young people from actually coming into the homeless system and ensuring that communities have the capacity and resources to support a range of interventions.

[Bookmark the USICH website for the latest news and resources around the federal response to ending homelessness.]

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