Youth workers know that homeless people are often invisible to their larger communities. In a continued effort to increase awareness of the scope and impact of homelessness on children and families, the Campaign to End Child Homelessness recently released "America's Youngest Outcasts 2010."
For each state, the report documents
- the number of homeless children, from birth to age 18, who are accompanied by one or more parents or guardians
- the well-being of children living below the poverty level
- factors that affect the risk for child and family homelessness, such as the state minimum wage, the cost of housing, and the percentage of children living in poverty
- planning and policy activities
Using findings from numerous sources, the report's authors break down what homelessness looks like in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia using colorful graphs. The authors also discuss the social issues contributing to homelessness rates in different states.
Information about unaccompanied homeless youth, who are living independently of their parents or guardians, is not included in the report.
Youth workers can use "America's Youngest Outcasts 2010" to see how child and family homelessness in their state compares with others. Each state's one-page report card can be a quick resource to share with community members and stakeholders.
Read NCFY's articles about Opening Doors, the federal government's strategy to end homelessness, which includes a plan to eliminate youth, child and family homelessness by 2020.
Too many young people experience dating violence. And too many don't recognize the violence as abuse.
That's why February will once again mark Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The month-long awareness-raising activities are led by more than a dozen organizations dedicated to ending domestic violence and teen dating abuse. This year's theme is 'Let Your Heart Rule,' a call to help every young person recognize that any kind of abuse in relationships is not acceptable.
The links below will help you and the youth you work with get involved with fighting teen dating violence. And stay tuned for more articles on the subject from NCFY this month.
Q: Our transitional living program is, for the first time, planning to house youth in their own apartments around our city. What can we do to make sure our youth are good tenants and don't have issues with their landlords?
A: You're smart to ask this question now, rather than after youth have already moved in. The key to ensuring that your tenants are on good terms with their landlords is building strong, lasting connections between the landlords and your agency, says Megan Burr, who coordinates relationships with landlords for Community Youth Services in Olympia, WA.
Start by designating one staff person as your "landlord liaison," Burr says. That person will serve as the link between landlords or rental housing agencies, your organization, and youth tenants. He or she will reach out to prospective landlords and help build relationships with them even before youth move into their buildings.
To figure out what housing complexes will work with you, Burr says, your landlord liaison can attend meetings with public agencies that typically have connections with complexes willing to rent to those with poor credit or no credit. These agencies might include your state or county's department of corrections and supportive housing agencies.
Then, the liaison should talk to landlords and rental housing agencies to find out what kind of support they need when they rent their units to youth and young adults. The liaison might also want to talk to other youth-serving agencies about what works and what doesn’t in your area when it comes to building relationships with landlords.
Burr suggests finding a smallish number of apartment complexes that will work with your organization, say six to 12. That way, you can give all your landlords the time and attention they need. She also advises you to treat landlords the way you treat donors. Help landlords see their involvement in your program as an investment in their communities, and invite them to awards ceremonies and other gatherings your agency hosts so that they can understand your organization’s mission and how they can contribute.
Once youth have moved in, Burr helps the landlord ensure that rent and other fees are paid on time and that youth maintain the property well and follow the landlord's rules. If there’s a problem, Burr mediates a discussion between the youth, the landlord, and a case manager or social worker. She also works to empower youth residents by teaching life skills or facilitating workshops on renting housing, landlord-tenant laws, reading and understanding legal documents, being a smart consumer, budgeting, communication and cleanliness.
In fact, her training sessions for youth have been so successful they've had an unintended long-term benefit for youth: “Many of our youth participants have been offered jobs as custodians and office aids at the complexes where they live," she says, "because of the skills they have learned through our workshops.”
Other resources from NCFY
For homeless youth, playing soccer with Street Soccer USA is the equivalent of a corner kick: A new start after the ball has gone out of bounds. Street Soccer partners with youth and adult homeless programs in about 20 cities. Throughout the year players, who must be 15 and older, develop their own goals, and their coaches and teammates help them stay on track.
"The core of what we do is during practices," says Lawrence Cann, Street Soccer's founder. "We see the trauma, and as coaches we can find out what's wrong and connect people back to the services they need."
Each June, players bring the spirit of teamwork and mutual support to the annual Street Soccer USA Cup, known as the SSUSA Cup. Though one team takes home the title, no one really loses.
In collaboration with Cann and his organization, NCFY has put together a slideshow of photos and stories of young people who played in the 2011 tournament, held in Washington, DC. In the June 2012 tournament, 24 teams will represent 20 different cities.
Today's youth live in a tough economic climate. They need to know the importance of managing money well. National Public Radio's special series Money Counts: Young Adults and Financial Literacy, which first ran last May, includes videos, articles and resources to help young people set a budget, save money and stay financially afloat.
Youth can use the series to:
- Learn how to use Web-based tools and apps to set and stick to a budget
- Calculate how to grow their savings from an early age
- Hear the most important financial lessons learned by over 1,000 NPR listeners
Money Counts also includes articles by college students about loans, debt and managing money while in school.
“Screening homeless youth for histories of abuse: Prevalence, enduring effects, and interest in treatment” (abstract), Child Abuse & Neglect, 35(5), June 2011.
What it’s about: At a Salt Lake City drop-in center, researchers screened 64 homeless youth, ages 18 to 23, for histories of physical and sexual abuse. The researchers were interested in learning how much youth felt that the abuse still affected them and whether they would be willing to seek treatment.
Why read it: Though the number of participants was small, and the results may not be applicable to the general population of homeless youth, the study offers interesting insights into the long-term affects abuse can have on homeless young people.
Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Of the 64 youth screened,
- 54 said they had been either physically or sexually abused or both;
- 39 said they were still bothered by past abuse; and
- 24 said they were interested in treatment for the trauma they'd experienced.
The authors encourage providers to routinely screen youth for past abuse and to present youth with all their treatment options. The authors also highlight the need for evidence-based treatment models, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to be adapted and studied in drop-in centers and other programs for homeless youth.
Additional reference: A free web-based learning course on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is available to mental health students or professionals through the Medical University of South Carolina.
(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)
At the Orion Center in Seattle, young people learn yoga, rock climbing and knitting. They make greeting cards and mosaics, and play guitar or drums during jam sessions with professional musicians.
But Director Ruth Blaw is quick to emphasize, “We’re not a rec center.”
Run by the nonprofit YouthCare, Orion is a drop-in center where homeless youth get food, clothing, supplies and referrals to other services. That’s what brings them in the door. But what gets many youth to stay and open up, Blaw believes, are the unique activities, classes and workshops Orion offers. That is, finding creative ways to engage homeless youth enables staff to help youth take the next step toward building their futures.
Blaw says, “With every youth, we always have one question in mind: ‘What's next?’”
When homeless young people create art or make music or take on physical challenges, they’re opening up and taking a little bit of a risk, Blaw says. And all the while, staff are giving them guidance and encouragement. “It helps create trust in a group that’s typically short on trust,” she says.
For young people who are ready to move forward, Orion offers GED prep, employment training, and workshops on securing and maintaining housing.
Staff let young people know about these educational opportunities in between jam sessions or poetry workshops. They’re systematic about it, keeping careful logs of interactions with each young person, what they talked about, and who to follow up with about what.
Blaw has some tips on how to get creative about engaging homeless youth:
- Offer activities that would appeal to a broad range of youth. For example, Orion tries to balance activities that are crafty, outdoorsy, calming and lively. They also offer skill-building activities, like cooking.
- Ask youth for suggestions. Orion staff ask for input at weekly community meetings, and peer outreach workers survey youth informally during drop-in hours. The center has also had a suggestion box. Blaw says, “Some youth always speak up and some never do, so it’s important to try and solicit feedback in various ways.”
- To find volunteers to lead activities, ask staff to think about roommates, family members, and others they know who have special talents. Brainstorm businesses in your neighborhood that might donate space or materials. And think about approaching groups who already donate regularly. For example, if there’s a church that brings coats every month, ask them to consider an art-supply drive.
- Activities should be flexible and undemanding. “We’re not asking people to make a plan for their life,” Blaw says. “It’s good when young people can get some positive attention from adults and they have something they can come to regularly and hopefully look forward to.”
An elevator speech -- a short pitch about what your organization does and why you do it -- is a great way to promote your work to potential donors, volunteers, clients and collaborators. Last year, NCFY asked about a half dozen youth workers to share their elevator speeches. Watch them for ideas about how to make your own pitch.
"Finding Shelter: Two-Year Housing Trajectories Among Homeless Youth" (abstract), Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 49, No. 6, December 2011.
What it’s about: This study follows 426 youth, ages 14 to 24, over two years. The researchers were interested in documenting patterns of youth homelessness. They also wanted to find out what factors might predict whether young people find reliable housing or become chronically homeless.
Why read it: This is one of the first studies to look at patterns of youth homelessness over time. It highlights the need for youth workers to take into account how acculturated homeless youth are to street life when identifying the best ways to serve them.
Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors identified three common patterns:
- About 41 percent of homeless youth found stable places to live.
- About 20 percent of youth lived in different places for short periods of time.
- About 39 percent had no reliable place to stay during the two years of the study.
In other words, youth experiencing first-time homelessness were as likely to become chronically homelessness as they were to end up with stable housing.
Youth who were younger, did not use drugs (other than alcohol or marijuana), and were less involved in common street activities like panhandling or trading sex for money or a place to stay, were less likely to be chronically homeless. Youth who were kicked out or otherwise forced to leave home exited homelessness more quickly than those who left home by choice.
The authors say their findings suggest that most homeless youth will need intensive, long-term support services.Youth workers can help by seeking to reunite young people with their families, whenever possible, and helping them build connections with family members and other caring adults.
Additional Reference: NCFY's Primary Sources column recently featured another study on patterns of youth homelessness, "The Heterogeneity of Homeless Youth in America: Examining Typologies," by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The organization’s website also includes a section on preventing youth homelessness.
(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)
The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth has three new toolkits with information about supporting unaccompanied homeless youth, who are not living with their families, in school and out:
- Toolkit for High School Counselors and McKinney-Vento Liaisons: Includes a primer on laws that affect homeless youth and guidance on how to enroll unaccompanied youth in school. The toolkit also advises on how to help youth fill out college applications, take entrance exams and apply for financial aid.
- Toolkit for Shelters and Service Providers: Includes guidance on helping youth access school, transitional housing and services, and financial support for education.
- Toolkit for College and University Financial Aid Administrators: Helps college employees understand their role in helping unaccompanied homeless youth get an education.
See also NCFY's quick breakdown of the McKinney-Vento Act, which mandates access to education for homeless youth, and our article about resources that help homeless college students learn about federal student aid.