07/13/2012 - Listening to the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholars: The Needs of Youth Experiencing Homelessness

On June 18, one day before participating in a Congressional briefing on youth homelessness, the 2010 recipients of the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship, all currently and formerly homeless youth, came to the USICH office in Washington, D.C. to share their experiences and offer their first-hand accounts of the obstacles faced with exiting youth homelessness.

Established in 1998, the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship funds are available to students who are homeless or who have been homeless during their school attendance and who have demonstrated higher than average achievement.  To date, 222 youth representing 38 states have been selected as NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholars.  USICH had the great opportunity to visit with thirteen of them.

Sitting in a circle among their peers, representatives from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and staff members from USICH, HUD, HHS and USDA, these students shared for us and for each other their journey from an unstable home life, to homelessness, to a college campus, and often back and forth between the three.  They offered candid assessments of the services they received and the manner in which those services were provided. 

All of their stories are courageous and inspiring; all of them overcame impossible odds and heartbreaking situations to better their chances at a stable life and a good education.  From exiting abusive homes and couch-surfing through high school, to being shuffled through foster care providers, to hiding their homelessness from teachers and school administrators out of fear of being separated from siblings, these scholars have all experienced the gaps in our support systems.  What we can learn from the NAEHCY/LeTendre scholars and others who share similar situations is imperative to our goal to end youth homelessness by 2020:  what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done to turn the odds around for youth experiencing homelessness.

As Jennifer Ho highlighted in her post Ending Youth Homelessness,  “ We need to better understand that the way in which those services are provided make all the difference in engaging youth, helping those who can return home, and supporting those who can’t have all the opportunities they each need to live up to their full potential.”

The LeTendre Scholars are primed to meet their full potential, but their journey out of homelessness isn’t over.  Many still face homelessness when their college dorms close for summer break; they struggle to find continuing support for their education; and most must deal with the unstable family life that incited their homelessness in the beginning and threaten their stability still.

Over the past two years, the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship program has expanded its support to include on-going case management, continuing scholarships, a college completion fund, and opportunities for youth to guide NAEHCY’s public policy work, as well as a reunion in Washington, D.C. two years after the initial award.

The NAEHCY/LeTendre scholars are success stories, and the work being done by the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship Fund makes real progress in the effort to end youth homelessness.  However, we know that for every success story there are several youths who have not yet found the support they need, and that perhaps more critically, the support they need—the services and organizations put in place to help—have not yet found them.

Every community can work to find and serve youth like these Scholars that need a stable place to call home. We urge all communities to identify the ways in which you can help advance the interventions that help youth achieve their goals, improve our understanding of the size of the problem and what’s needed to end it. Improve collaborations between youth programs and adult programs, and work smartly with the education system to make sure the individuals that are often the most trusted by vulnerable youth—their teachers—are key collaborators with service providers.  Together, we can end youth homelessness in your community and in our nation by 2020.

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