By Aimee Hendrigan, Senior Program Officer
Last week the Boston Globe reported on a significant increase in youth homelessness in Boston. One local youth shelter reported serving three times as many young people this year compared to last year. A youth profiled in the article was spending his nights in a doorway less than a block away from the Melville Trust’s first office space.
This increase in unaccompanied homeless youth is a growing national problem, even as many areas are having some success in housing chronically homeless adults. These youth are a challenging population to both quantify and engage, and as a result do not always receive the services and attention they need. Darla Bardine of the National Network for Youth observes in a recent U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) blog that homeless youth are often “invisible.” They strive to look like typical adolescents, and may not appear at first glance to be “homeless.” However, they may be sleeping in parks or on subway trains, or couch surfing in unstable or dangerous settings. They often avoid adult homeless shelters out of fear or the desire to not be identified as homeless.
While the same economic and social issues that can contribute to individual and family homelessness may factor into youth homelessness, Bardine observes that severe family conflict is the most common reason for a young person to be homeless. This type of conflict can include physical violence, sexual abuse, chronic neglect, and abandonment. Youth experiencing homelessness may have run away from home, or may have been thrown out. It’s common that youth have been involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems; some may have recently been discharged from foster care. The specific increase in youth homelessness is often compounded by the fragmented and frequently underfunded service delivery response to this highly at-risk population. Youth may cross several service delivery systems within a state – education, juvenile justice, child welfare and law enforcement – but often no agency “owns” them.
This year, the Melville Trust made a commitment to explore solutions to end youth homelessness. Our first investment has been in a statewide effort in Connecticut called the “No Wrong Door” project. “No Wrong Door” takes a comprehensive approach to addressing youth homelessness, following recommendations by USICH in their Framework to End Youth Homelessness. “No Wrong Door” will employ a dynamic blend of advocacy and service planning to increase services and supports available to unaccompanied homeless youth from pre-adolescence up to age 24. The advocacy activities will focus on reforms to state laws and administrative agencies’ policies and procedures. The service planning will be focused on developing comprehensive service integration between the different agencies that touch this population. This project’s outcomes will include: more effective data integration between state agencies, exploration and piloting of housing options for youth, and ultimately, the development of a more robust statewide service network to serve these youth.
Currently, “No Wrong Door” is jointly staffed by the Center for Children’s Advocacy and the Partnership for Strong Communities, with critical input from the broad membership of the Opening Doors-Connecticut Homeless Youth Workgroup. The Corporation for Supportive Housing-CT (CSH) and Connecticut Voices for Children are key partners in the project. The Trust has also funded CSH to explore housing options for youth; they will be leading the Housing subgroup of “No Wrong Door.” Among other roles, CT Voices will be a lead in engaging youth through the Connecticut Department of Youth and Family’s Youth Advisory Boards.
We have been energized by the commitment, enthusiasm and powerful collaborative effort that brought this project together. No longer invisible, these youth must be seen, heard and safely housed!
How is your community addressing youth homelessness? Have you seen this population growing in your area?