Federal Agency Works To End Youth Homelessness in New England

Kathryn Power of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who chaired the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, asked the council’s 19 member agencies in 2016 to focus their efforts on ending youth homelessness. HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was uniquely prepared for the work, said Kathryn Power, the SAMHSA regional administrator for Region 1 (the New England states).

“Because we have a youth mental health program, we have a priority focus on trauma, and we have a priority focus on ensuring that people who are at risk of homelessness have shelter … We had a very clear role to be engaged. So SAMHSA [Region 1] became involved in this because our Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness took the task seriously.”

Power and the regional council held a conference in November 2016 and a webinar in early December. At the conference, state officials and providers discussed how they could coordinate their efforts to ensure effective community-level responses to youth homelessness. The webinar focused on trauma-informed service delivery for homeless youth.

We spoke with Power recently to learn more about her region’s work to prevent and end youth homelessness.

NCFY: What activities does the Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness have planned for 2017?

Power: We will have a meeting … in January. We will do a follow-up and evaluate the effects of the conference, the effects of the webinar, and what individual community providers said they needed more information about. We also are thinking about doing some series of webinars … about how trauma-informed care needs to be wrapped around youth transition services and the philosophy of harm reduction [and] the philosophy of Positive Youth Development. Those three elements have to be woven into whatever kind of individualized treatments and supports are provided in the community. And we have a long way to go for some of the providers in the community to even know about what those strategies are, or how to adopt them in their staff as they deliver care to homeless youth.

NCFY: What impact will these events and activities have on the efforts to end youth homelessness in Region 1?

Power: I think over time what we hope will develop will be a sustained community sense of ownership and obligation for ensuring that youth do not become homeless. So I’m hoping that we can solidify rapid housing, solidify Housing First, solidify trauma-informed approaches, and solidify harm reduction strategies in the agencies that serve youth and then hopefully move a little bit further upstream, to help think about more primary prevention, and ensuring that schools and hospitals and churches are looking out for the potential for youth and families [to become homeless]. I hope that we can be much more aggressive about prevention, identification and earlier intervention, that we can do more street outreach at the places where homeless individuals may gather ... just build a stronger web of connectivity over time that hopefully then not only stabilizes the individuals, but also helps address some of the co-occurring issues related to substance use disorder or mental health issues that often accompany the experience of homelessness.

NCFY: It sounds like the activities are helping everyone in the region get on the same page about ending youth homelessness. What will that look like on the local level?

Power: Being on the same page means that we’re sharing the vision that we agree to the goal of ending youth homelessness in 2020, and it may look very different in Newport, Rhode Island, than it does in Hartford, Connecticut, but that’s okay. It’s got to be indigenously the kind of community response that makes sense for the population in those places, for the access issues for services, the housing stock and what kinds of housing and homes are available, the kinds of providers and stabilization that are required, the linkages with education, the linkages with the state agencies. All of those things will look different, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all, but it is a commitment to achieve ending youth homelessness and having some concrete activities … in everyday work.

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