06/27/2014 - Baltimore Takes Steps Forward to End Youth Homelessness

By Amy L. Sawyer, USICH Regional Coordinator

Fresh from the 25 Cities work session on coordinated entry systems, a group of community leaders invited USICH to Baltimore to delve a little more deeply into the issue of youth homelessness.  We were asked to use the Youth Framework as a lens to discuss what it will take to ensure the resources and partnerships exist to end youth homelessness in Baltimore.

USICH Policy Director Eric Grumdahl, Management and Policy Analyst Peter Nicewicz, and I agreed to meet with our hosts, members of The Journey Home’s Special Populations workgroup, and bring with us a mix of policy and community perspectives on the Youth Framework. We were also eager to learn from what people are thinking about and acting on in Baltimore; their experience and expertise helps us finetune our understanding of what it takes to end youth homelessness.

Adrienne Breidenstine leads the Special Populations group. She greeted us enthusiastically on arrival, saying, “We are dedicated to ending youth homelessness, and we’re up for the challenge!” The Special Populations group is currently evaluating existing capacity and resources to address youth homelessness and identifying how to create a strategic approach that will, hopefully, align with the Youth Framework.

baltimore the journey home plan to end youth homelessness“In Baltimore,” she explained, “We have a core group of youth service providers, funders, and government agencies that are committed to The Journey Home, Baltimore’s plan to end homelessness, and the vision that homelessness in Baltimore is rare and brief for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Now is the time for us to harness our community’s energy and commitment to the cause and translate it into action.”

Baltimore brings a breadth of experience and opportunity to the table. The city boasts advocacy agencies that have partnered with state legislators that represent both sides of the aisle, including Mary Washington and Edward Reilly, to develop and pass legislation that can clear the way for youth to access higher education, support a pilot initiative to conduct targeted counts of unaccompanied youth, and create a joint committee in the General Assembly and an Interagency Council on Homelessness. Baltimore also enjoys a strong network of agencies with people who have built relationships and share a passion to end homelessness, which has led to creative housing and services directed toward youth.

In addition, Health Care for the Homeless has deployed outreach teams to visit multiple sites in the community, making themselves accessible to youth and vastly improving their health and welfare as they seek to stabilize. For youth in the school system, the partnership with school-based homeless liaisons has created continuity and access to education even during the crisis of homelessness. And the city’s LGBTQ coordinator sees solving youth homelessness as a core part of her work because LGBTQ youth are inordinately impacted by homelessness.

Lastly, the voices of youth who have experienced homelessness have been put at the center of planning for the outreach and housing agencies, creating a space and process that truly fits what works for youth, including incorporating youth who have lived experience with homelessness into outreach teams.

Like many communities, Baltimore is taking many steps forward to meet the challenge of ending youth homelessness. A few challenges that rose to the surface during our discussion were how to:

  • Develop shared strategies and form partnerships and build communication across programs to ensure that all youth are quickly connected housing and support
  • Connect youth younger than age 18, who are unable sign a lease, to stable housing
  • Connect youth to employment opportunities that lead to careers
  • Identify  tools and resources to help youth flourish and build vital social networks
  • Identify and support youth who are “doubled up” and who may not access traditional homeless services

As we talked about applying the Youth Framework in Baltimore and approaching solutions at a systems level, the Special Populations group identified some real opportunities to strengthen their efforts:

  • First the group can identify methods to collect and coordinate data to that will help evaluate progress based on the Youth Framework’s four core outcomes: stable housing, permanent connections, access to education and employment, and social and emotional well-being.
  • The group also expressed interest in linking RHYMIS data with HMIS, incorporating key questions about housing into assessments used by programs and systems that work with youth. 
  • The opportunity to grow skills and partnerships around data collection and sharing through the state’s pilot youth count initiative was also identified. Furthermore, the group is considering building on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in schools and evaluating outcomes of the newly adopted community-wide assessment for people experiencing homelessness that incorporates questions on youth.
  • Lastly, as the results from the community wide assessments that are part of coordinated entry are conducted, results from youth interviews can be evaluated since there are specific questions that focus on youth.

Implementing the youth strategy isn’t a linear process, but rather, it calls on communities to conduct parallel efforts across focus areas so that a robust and responsive system can help youth thrive and grow in housing. From my perspective, Baltimore is poised to take some great leaps towards ending youth homelessness as the city strengthens its data and programmatic response to youth homelessness while increasing housing options for youth. 

To learn more about Baltimore’s efforts, contact Adrienne Breidenstine, 410-396-7543

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