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Executive Director Barbara Poppe at the 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness


I begin by bringing greetings from Council Chair and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Council Vice Chair and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.  I’d like to recognize the members of the USICH team that are present:  Laura Zeilinger our Deputy Director, Katharine Gale who has just joined us as a Policy Director, and our extraordinary team of Regional Coordinators, Matthew Doherty, Beverley Ebersold, Bob Pulster, and Amy Sawyer.

I’d also like to thank our DC-based Federal partners who have joined us, Mark Johnston and Ann Oliva from HUD, Don Moulds, Mark Greenberg, Barbara Broman, Sonali Patel and Resa Matthew from HHS, and  Vince Kane, Pete Dougherty, and John Kuhn from Veterans Affairs, along with other Federal partners who are here from across the country.

Before I begin my remarks on youth, I want to note that yesterday HHS released an Information Memorandum expressing the importance of addressing family homelessness with TANF funding for families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness

The memo highlights the innovative work of our partners at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, the Mercer County Board of Social Services in New Jersey, The Utah Department of Workforce Services, A Safe Haven in Chicago, as well as the Diversion Cash Assistance program and the Gates Foundation here in Washington State. 

Our partners are proving that real solutions can come from existing monies and existing authorities, and that bringing mainstream resources to bear is essential to the goals of Opening Doors—to ending and preventing homelessness in America.

Why do we care about youth? 

I care about youth because I am a mother of two youth.  My son was fifteen when I started this position and my daughter was 22. As they’ve struggled through adolescence, they have needed tremendous support (as have my husband and I to be supportive parents).  All kinds of resources were needed to get them through high school to college and launched on a career path. We view these as investments in their future.

For me, youth homelessness is personal, as my children have friends who are struggling with family conflict, domestic violence, and other types of traumatic situations.  They are at risk of and have experienced homelessness.  Caring adults stepped in and they were connected to resources to complete their education and get a meaningful job, and my children’s friends are succeeding day by day.  There are the usual ups and downs of adolescence but they are on a pathway to stability. 

Everyone in this room knows the struggles of adolescence.  It’s personal for each of us, and we can tap that energy to create a national movement to invest in youth now. Many of you have stepped up already, and I’m hoping everyone will step up to create more and better solutions for youth.

For me, I decided to work through the Council and join with other stakeholders to make ending youth homelessness a national priority.  Today, I’ve been asked to share what the federal government is doing.

So how did we get started?

As you know when Opening Doors was released in 2010, we set the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020. This past December, the 19 agencies that make up the Council along with our colleagues at the White House recommitted to this goal for action during our second term.

My bosses at the Council are all Cabinet Secretaries, who once they commit to a goal, get very serious about success.  We began this work by believing that we needed to:

  • Be honest about what we know and what we don’t know
  • Not let the absence of good numbers get in the way of figuring out how to leverage Federal investments to act more strategically
  • Fill in the gaps in our knowledge through more research on effectiveness of interventions
  • Focus especially on connecting Federal resources for underserved populations, including LGBTQ youth, foster care and justice involved youth, pregnant and parenting youth, and others
  • Illuminate what harm reduction and housing first means for youth

We knew that homelessness among youth differs from homelessness among other populations. Youth—aged 13 to 24—have distinct developmental needs.  Youth are not mini-adults.  Lives change rapidly during these ages so interventions must be flexible and responsive to this unique developmental period.  There is also a subset of youth who are young parents, presenting another critical dynamic which must be considered when developing homelessness interventions for youth.

The problem of youth homelessness is often invisible. We knew that many youth do not access shelters. They do not want to be identified for various reasons.  In many states, it is illegal for youth under 16 to be “runaways.”  For older youth, the stigma of homelessness (especially if they are still attending school) is not something they want known.  We knew that adult shelters are too often not safe for youth. 

We also knew that multiple Federal agencies—HHS, Education, Justice, HUD, Labor—have programs for youth, but none were solely responsible for addressing youth homelessness. This created greater complexity and opaqueness about this critical segment of people who experience homelessness.

And we knew, most importantly, that there was not a clear understanding of the scope of the problem, and that there was limited to no national consensus on the best interventions for homeless youth.

To make youth homelessness more visible and to identify the most promising strategies that solve the problem, the Council in 2011 charged Commissioner Bryan Samuels at HHS-Administration on Children, Youth, and Families and USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho to co-chair an interagency workgroup to propose a framework to end youth homelessness by 2020. 

In addition—from the development of the plan up to the present—USICH has continuously engaged stakeholders across the country and our national partners, conducted focus groups with youth who had first-hand experience of homelessness, made site visits to programs, and held discussions with youth providers. Early last spring, USICH also launched a crowd-sourcing platform to provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to provide input.

The Federal interagency work group provided two reports to the Council along with a set of policy recommendations that were described as the Framework to End Youth Homelessness, in addition to recommending that the Opening Doors plan be amended. Acting on the workgroup recommendations, the Council amended Opening Doors in September 2012 to include new strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness.

All of this work is intended as the necessary preamble to organize ourselves to prevent and end youth homelessness. Once we know what works for different groups of youth experiencing homelessness, we can scale up what works and reduce interventions that are less effective.

What are we doing now? 

Earlier today, USICH released the Framework to End Youth Homelessness, a resource for communities and States, which you can find on our website at The Framework is more detailed than the Plan amendment that was issued last September.

The Youth Framework calls on the Federal government working with communities, agencies and systems at all levels to work together on a strategic approach to getting to better youth outcomes in stable housing, permanent connections, education, employment, and wellbeing. 

The Framework involves two complementary and concurrent strategies: getting to better data on youth homelessness, and building capacity for service-delivery system to end youth homelessness.  

At the Federal level, we are taking a number of steps to improve our data on youth.  Most significantly, HUD revised the PIT data tables for the 2013 Count.  This means that for the first time we will have national data from every community about the number of youth up to age 24 who were counted.  Previously youth were grouped in with adults up to age 30.

This year we also launched the Youth Count! Initiative, a study to identify strategies used to reach unaccompanied homeless youth and to assess promising practices and interesting challenges to implementing a youth-targeted count. Nine study sites participated, including Seattle and Washington State. The early reports show that by involving youth and youth providers, better counts are possible, but it’s still tough to enumerate and survey youth.

HUD and HHS, with support from USICH, have been working to integrate HHS’ youth data system, RHYMIS, with HUD’s homeless data system, HMIS. This will improve these data systems by making them work better for youth-serving agencies while painting a clearer picture of young people touched by federally-funded services across agencies. 

The next steps to appear publicly will occur as HUD issues the new HMIS data standard. In the meantime, HUD, HHS, and USICH are actively engaged on the details of the integration.

These data steps can also pave the way for a new National Prevalence Study focused on youth experiencing homelessness. Stay tuned…

The Council is also working with local communities that are interested in adopting the Youth Framework’s preliminary intervention model. We are collecting and sharing tools that can identify risk and protective factors to help providers determine the type and level of intervention needed to improve outcomes for youth.  

A systems model for homeless youth is a new approach to the provider community for how they think about front-end assessment for youth experiencing homelessness and connections to the most effective services. Some communities, like Minneapolis, Portland, Boston, and Los Angeles are already beginning to organize their services systematically around addressing the needs of youth and testing screening and assessment tools that include risk and protective factors. Please let us know if your community is planning for how the intervention model can be applied to your community.

Even if your community hasn’t yet embraced the preliminary intervention model and a systems approach for youth, at a minimum, create stronger collaborations between systems that work with youth, including HHS’ Runaway and Homeless Youth providers, HUD’s CoC system and providers, and Education’s homeless liaisons. Our Federal partners have encouraged their grantees to reach across the silos of child welfare, public education, and juvenile and adult justice to integrate their efforts with community-driven approaches to youth homelessness.

What will it take to end youth homelessness?

Ending youth homelessness will take all of us working together – aligned in our approach and our advocacy. We will only meet our shared goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness by 2020 if we build the evidence of what works, identify the gaps and the resources that are needed, then build an effective case to attain those resources to fill the gap. Only by working together can we build a smart case and the solutions necessary to end youth homelessness. 

On behalf of President Obama and this administration, thank you for your hard and necessary work.  As he said in his State of the Union Address last week, “we need to build ladders of opportunity...” Together, we can make sure that homelessness will never stop a young person in this country from reaching that first wrung.  Together, it’s possible to end the national crisis of youth homelessness and ensure that everyone has a safe and stable place to call home.  Thank You.