Voices of Youth Count & A Way Home America
2017 was a milestone year in the field of youth homelessness thanks in big part to two organizations we are honored to support: Chapin Hall, a research and policy institute at the University of Chicago, and A Way Home America, a growing national initiative to build the movement to prevent and end homelessness among young people. Our grantee partners attacked the problem from two different angles—gathering data and spurring innovation—moving our nation closer to the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020.
Giving the Field the Data it Needs
For Dr. Matthew Morton, the principal investigator for Voice of Youth Count, his current research on youth homelessness is anything but academic. During his presentations at conferences across the country, Morton candidly shares that he lost his mother at a young age and without the guidance of caring adults like his English teacher, his life could have looked a lot like the youth he interviewed for his groundbreaking study, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America.
Voices of Youth Count was born out of a very real concern in the field that lack of credible data was a major obstacle to effectively addressing the largely hidden problem of youth homelessness.
Over a two-year period, Morton and his colleagues spoke with more than 26,000 young people and their families across the country to better understand why young people become homeless, how many experience homelessness, who they are, their journeys, and the services and strategies they use to survive. The research team also looked at existing data sets on youth that have never been compared, developed a standardized methodology to conduct annual counts of youth who don’t have a home, and conducted a policy and fiscal review of the many disparate programs that serve these young people.
What We Learned from This Research
Youth homelessness is a large, serious, and hidden challenge in our country.
1 in 10 young adults (18-25) and 1 in 30 minors (13-17) endures some form of homelessness in a year. That’s at least 4.2 million young people who are at a critical window of development in their lives and lack the foundational stability that housing provides.
Some youth are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness.
This is not an urban problem, it is an American problem.
Before this study, little was known about the degree of youth homelessness in rural areas compared to urban areas. And while young people in urban areas may be more visible, youth homelessness is just as much of a challenge in rural communities as it is in cities.
We can’t solve youth homelessness without a focus on prevention and intervention.
About half the young people surveyed experienced homelessness for the first time. With policies and programs that get at the root of the problem, we can change this statistic.
Creating Change in Communities
While the research team of Voices of Youth Count was diving into data and interviewing thousands of young people, A Way Home America was compiling its own lessons by supporting frontline workers in multiple communities to figure out new and better ways to identify and provide housing and services to young people struggling with homelessness.
100 DAy Challenge: Cleveland, Ohio
Six months before her high school graduation, Raqinda Robinson was kicked out of her house. For a while, she stayed with friends, but didn’t like people knowing she didn’t have a home. “I’m used to seeing other homeless people, but I never thought I was going to become one.“ Eventually she was sleeping in local parks, at bus stations downtown, and when it got too cold, in shelters. Raquinda, and 109 other resilient young people in Cleveland and the greater Cuyahoga County, found housing as part of the first wave of 100 Day Challenges to end youth homelessness. Read more stories like Raqinda’s in Cleveland Magazine’s profile of the 100 Day Challenge, Homeward Bound.
“When I was homeless, I would see some of my classmates at CSU (Cleveland State University). I still couldn’t tell them what was going on. That was difficult, because they wouldn’t understand.”
100 Day Challenges Across America
With funding support from the Melville Trust, and several philanthropic and government partners, A Way Home America and the Rapid Results Institute launched the first 100 Day Challenges to end youth homelessness in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Austin.
1,918 young people in 15 communities went from homeless to housed in 100 Days.
In each community, frontline workers, supported by leaders, set seemingly impossible goals that they didn’t know how to achieve. Then through relentless collaboration, innovation, and execution, they pursued these goals with incredible outcomes.
Goal: House 100 young people with a focus on youth involved with the Department of Children and Family Services.
Result after 100 Days: 100 youth housed and all youth leaving foster care had solid housing plans.
Goal: House 50 youth, half with histories of foster care.
Result after 100 Days: 62 youth housed, with 40% having histories of foster care.
Goal: House 237 youth of whom 58 have complex and immediate needs.
Result after 100 Days: 256 youth housed, with 66 having complex and immediate needs.
Since A Way Home America launched these 100 Day Challenges, 15 communities from rural Maine to Seattle have used this process to jumpstart efforts in their communities to end youth homelessness.
How Did They Do It?
A consistent process for quickly housing young people and better use of data
Communities created a list of all youth in the community who were experiencing homelessness, implemented a standard tool to assess each young person, improved their coordinated entry system that matches young people to available housing/resources that best fit their needs, and put systems in place to better share and track the number of youth that are housed and their outcomes.
Authentic youth engagement became the norm.
Youth advisors with lived experience helped craft the solutions in their community
Relationships between public systems were strengthened and improved.
Most notably, child welfare agencies were key to identifying and supporting at-risk youth.
New ways to find safe and stable housing were discovered.
Family supports were strengthened, relationships with landlords and property managers were enhanced, and shared rentals were used.
And perhaps most significantly for the long-term, providers reported shifts in how they thought about and performed their work.
Reflections of frontline staff affirmed that when they were presented with a clear goal on a tight deadline and allowed to take risks and experiment, they were able to achieve their wildly ambitious goal.
“We did everything differently.”
“We became a community”
“We didn’t do this for 100 days to stop now.”
In the coming year, A Way Home America will be building on the success of these 100 Day Challenges and undertaking “Grand Challenges” in up to 10 communities across the country. Through these efforts, they hope to learn what is needed across communities to end youth homelessness sustainably and at scale.
Her Own Safe Space
Like so many young people who experience homelessness, Sasha became homeless once she aged out of the foster care system. She is one of the 236 young people that found safe and stable housing as part of the 100 Day Challenge in Hennepin County, MN.
Leaders in the Field: Meet Megan Gibbard Kline
Megan Gibbard Kline, Director of A Way Home America, shares how her experiences working with young people at a shelter led her to where she is today.