When it comes to providing services to the homeless young people, it is often said that “youth are not just mini-adults.” Youth require developmentally appropriate interventions tailored to their needs and circumstances. However, this need is often not reflected in existing plans to end homelessness, treating individuals who experience homelessness as a single group and not adequately addressing the unique needs of children, youth and young adults. As a result, many youth who turn to adult services experience threats, theft, or harassment, or are turned away because they don’t necessarily fit within the constraints of the environment.
In order to directly address the unique needs of young people experiencing homelessness, in January the California Homeless Youth Project (HYP) released the first-ever state action plan focused on ending homelessness for youth and young adults. More Than a Roof: How California Can End Youth Homelessness aims to align state and local policymakers, service providers, and government agencies towards ending youth homelessness by 2020, as set out by USICH’s federal strategic plan Opening Doors.
Commissioned by Senator Carol Liu, the strategic action plan is informed not only by the latest research but by homeless youth themselves, providing policy solutions and concrete recommendations to address this issue that former USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho referred to as “unacceptable”. Now, with a recently balanced budget for the first time in many years, California is in a better position than ever to implement the action steps laid out in the plan.
More Than a Roof addresses ten issue areas most common in the literature on ending homelessness, such as preventing homelessness before it occurs; improving health, educational and employment outcomes and opportunities; coordinating a continuum of services to meet the needs of all homeless and at risk youth; increasing access to safe and affordable homes; and pursuing a research agenda that will help California better understand the needs of these youth. The report lays out a number of targeted action steps to achieve these goals.
Another emphasis of our recommendations, and our project at large, is the youth voice. Joshua Williams, an unstably housed young man from the California Council on Youth Relations had this to say about strategies to end youth homelessness, "I really like [the idea of] improving employment opportunities and getting more information out… like job shadowing or mentorship is really great." We honored Joshua’s voice and the voices of countless other current and formerly young people that we interviewed in 2008 about their ideas for policy change. We hope communities around the country will share our commitment to honor them too.
We know that the need for youth-specific services far outweighs current capacity in most communities. The recent National Alliance to End Homelessness conference underscored the importance of improving efforts to make adult services more “youth-friendly” to the 18 to 24-year-old population in an effort to increase the capacity of adult-serving shelters. I am encouraged by the recently released USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness which provides guidance on strategies for both capacity building and data collection, themes also emphasized in the state plan. We look forward to continuing to work with partners at the federal, state and local level in the coming years to substantially reduce the number of young people currently experiencing homelessness, prevent new instances of homelessness, and create an efficient and coordinated system to quickly set youth on a path to attain safe and stable housing.
Shahera Hyatt is the Director of the California Homeless Youth Project (HYP) where her focus is translating research on homeless youth for the legislative audience. Hyatt is also the local coordinator of the Sacramento Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Task Force and a member of the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ National Advisory Council on LGBT youth. The HYP is a non-partisan grant-funded initiative of the California Research Bureau and the California State Library with funding from The California Wellness Foundation.