A new initiative to curb youth homelessness wants to capitalize on what organizers say is a critical moment for anti-homelessness policy and advocacy.
A Way Home America aims to prevent and end youth homelessness by 2020, a goal shared by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Plans for the initiative, launched formally earlier this month at a White House briefing, are to set a policy agenda, create opportunities for communities to share ideas about what’s working and roll out a communications plan.
“I believe it’s a once-in-a-movement opportunity right now,” said Megan Gibbard, director of the initiative, which includes funders, governmental organizations, researchers and local providers.
Gibbard pointed to the federal government’s focus on youth homelessness, strong research that’s capturing the scope of homelessness in communities across the country, funders’ interest in addressing the issue and local providers’ successes.
One of the initiative’s immediate goals is to deliver a policy platform to the presidential campaigns this summer. While the details still are in the works, the plan will stress the importance of adequate funding, hearing directly from youth and communities that have successfully reduced homelessness and developing best practices across policy areas.
“The message will be: This can be the administration that can end youth homelessness,” Gibbard said. The goal doesn’t mean that no young person will ever face a housing emergency but that every community will be able to swiftly respond to a crisis and find stable housing for youth, she added.
Gibbard said there’s an important role for schools and after-school programs to play in ending youth homelessness, because teachers and others staff members spend so much time with young people and are often the first to notice problems.
“If they have the support, they can be first responders,” she said.
The initiative also will pay close attention to the experiences and needs of youth populations who are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and youth of color, she said.
In addition, the initiative also will launch 100-Day Challenges in communities around the country. The communities will set ambitious goals related to youth homelessness and look for ways to operate differently and connect to resources without an infusion of new funding.
The initiative’s steering committee includes Casey Family Programs, the Forum for Youth Investment, Funders Together to End Homelessness, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the True Colors Fund and the Raikes Foundation.
Jason Maier, a communications officer at the Raikes Foundation, said the foundation was drawn to the initiative in part because of its emphasis on cross-sector collaboration.
The foundation’s own work on youth homelessness in and around King County, Washington, showed the importance of bringing together schools, juvenile justice, child welfare and other partners.
“We all need to be looking at this with a holistic lens and not working in silos,” Maier said.
Meanwhile, a new report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools,” looks specifically at the ways schools and communities can come together to help youth experiencing homelessness.
Schools alone can’t do the work of supporting students to make sure they graduate from college and successfully segue into adulthood, notes the report, released today by the GradNation campaign and written by Civic Enterprises with Hart Research Associates.
“Schools, community organizations and caring adults can create a web of support and lifelines to action that will help students experiencing homelessness cope and thrive,” said John M. Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprise, in a news release.
One critical role community organizations can play is raise awareness about the existence of youth homelessness. Mentoring organizations, legal aid groups, domestic violence prevention organizations, and community-based education and social and emotional learning organizations all have a role to play in helping young people, the report said.
The report also recommended the nation set a goal of having 90 percent of homeless youth graduate from high school, the same rate that GradNation promotes for all high schoolers.