What Former Transitional Living Program Participants Suggest for Improving These Programs

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A young woman stands on a balcony looking forward.

In a recent research summary looking at the experiences of former transitional living program (TLP) participants and another follow-up study based on interviews with the same participants, the factors young people valued most about their TLP experiences included “sustained, supportive relationships, the need to provide long-term support, and the power of recreation,” said author Casey Holtschneider, assistant professor at Northeastern Illinois University and executive director at the Lyte Collective, a new youth community center for unstably-housed youth.

Holtschneider formerly worked as a case manager at Teen Living Programs, a FYSB grantee in Chicago.  Now a professor and researcher, she is forming the Lyte Collective based on what she’s found in her studies. Accompanying her in this endeavor are Derrick Fisher and Patricia Posey, young adult Lyte Collective board members and former participants of Teen Living Programs.

“We wanted to create a place [to which] young people could return in good times and bad without worrying about eligibility restrictions, and wanted to design something [for] young people first, and [for] their crises second” Holtschneider said.

Building Supportive Relationships

Many of the former TLP participants Holtschneider spoke with told stories of terrible crises they’d gone through, including repeated experiences of homelessness. When she asked them why they didn’t come back and seek help and support, many were too embarrassed to admit that they had fallen on hard times again.

“What happens is once you graduate from a program, you’re a statistic in a positive light. The program decides you are self-sufficient [enough] to finish, but what happens is kids don’t want to seem like an embarrassment to the program. It’s a pride thing; [they] don’t want to come back with [their] tail between [their] legs,” said Fisher.

He added that some young people still need help even once they are no longer part of a TLP program. Some are not mentally ready to be completely on their own; they are still dealing with the trauma of having been alone for so long in their lives.

Building a rapport and trusting relationship while youth are in a TLP program can encourage  them to stay in touch after they leave, rather than becoming isolated, Posey suggested. One way to establish those connections is to give intake staff a cheat sheet to record and remember details about individual young people.

“If a young person is really into music, and there’s a staff member who is really into that, [intake staff] could connect them and they might build a bond that way. Then that conversation can open a doorway to talk about other things,” Posey said.

Creating a Continuing Community of Support

Holtschneider suggested that TLP programs can create a community to which young people feel they belong and are welcome to return. Here are some simple, inexpensive ways Holtschneider suggested to create and maintain this community:

  • Create separate Facebook groups for TLP cohorts. Limiting access to these pages to the members of the group and respecting confidentiality will encourage and facilitate ongoing contact among youth and staff.
  • Invite alumni of the TLP program to agency and community events so that they feel connected and included.
  • Set up automated e-mails that go out on young people’s birthdays.
  • Send an informal text, call to check in on how youth are doing, or email to say that staff are thinking of them. This contact may make a difference in a young person feeling connected.

“Ultimately, it’s about creating a culture within the program that inspires belonging and support. Young people need people; that’s a big thing that came out of the study,” Holtschneider said.

Addressing Young People as Human Beings First, and Their Crises Second

Holtschneider emphasized that while recreational activities such as art, music, and writing may seem “fluffy,” these were the experiences that former TLP participants viewed as the most powerful in the long-term, as they moved through life. These opportunities, based in Positive Youth Development, gave youth the sense that the program invested in them as human beings, she said.

Through the Lyte Collective, Holtschneider and her team will offer partnerships with community housing programs, employment support, storage, and basic needs such as showers. Youth won’t come to the Lyte Collective only because they are in crisis. They will also come to attend volunteer-run dance classes or open mic nights.

“We’re going to focus on young people as whole human beings. Not just saying ‘here’s the problem, now fix it and move forward,’” Holtschneider explained. Young people reported that they “need people who ‘believe in us, invest in us, are going to be there even if we screw up, and see the potential that we have,’” she added.

“Once we focus on [these interests] they start to build confidence in other areas and are more likely to reach out to get the help that they need.”

Posey shared that she took advantage of several service and volunteer activities, such as a mentorship program. “It helps you see that you’re not the only one in this situation. Starting to build that helpfulness in young people led to my passion for working in nonprofits. The more you help people the more you help yourself, and the more you feel like your problem is smaller and you can overcome it.”

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