On Wednesday, October 21st, Project Homeless Connect hosted our third Provider Connect event of 2015. This event, Supporting Our Youth, Investing in Our Future, focused on best practices for serving transitional age youth (16 to 24 years old) experiencing homelessness.
Homeless youth face disproportionate amounts of violence, criminalization, and diminished resources—all piled on top of rapid developmental changes that all young people experience. While youth experiencing homelessness share the needs of the general homeless population (food, shelter, medical care), this critical time of social, emotional, and mental development is unique to youth and calls for services tailored to their needs. It is a time that culturally competent care can make a critical difference in the course of their future. A panel of service providers and youth, along with an audience of frontline care providers, engaged community members, and advocates gathered to share and discuss what we can do to best serve homeless youth.
The evening began with a panel discussing key issues facing homeless youth:
- Lack of age-appropriate services: many of the programs are adult services labeled with a youth age range, rather than services that are actually tailored to youth.
- Targets for criminalization: sit-lie laws that prohibit sitting or lying on the sidewalk especially impact youth as they have nowhere to go and are ticketed for sitting down in public.
- Takes too long to access services (i.e. when the window of opportunity opens that a youth wants to access addiction treatment services, an appointment can be two weeks out).
- Lack of stability: youth are moved around between many different agencies.
- Lack of youth-specific housing: there is only one shelter in San Francisco for youth. It is not appropriate or safe for youth to be house with adults.
- Lack of a safe place for youth: youth experiencing homelessness need place to be safe from harassment and judgement while they build trust with providers and contemplate services.
- Connecting with youth-specific services: While there is a shortage of youth services it is important for homeless service programs to work diligently to connect youth with youth programs, rather than trying to fit a youth into the mold of an adult program. This may take time and care, and in the meantime it is the provider’s responsibility to engage the youth through listening, compassion and understanding.
One of our panelists, the Chair of the Youth Advisory Board at Larkin Street Youth Services, said that youth “don’t have a voice in this system. You need to know what we need — dig deeper on something you may just call a complaint.” Each panelist spoke about the prevalent lack of true connection and caring authority figures in the lives of homeless youth. They noted that almost all youth they work with share the same experience of not being heard, not being listened to, and being disrespected and dismissed. Hearing this account numerous times, from all six of our panelists, is a clear call to action.
While we wait for the development of youth-specific housing and services, the way we communicate and connect with our homeless youth is something we can all change now. Panelists urged providers to truly listen and allow themselves to connect and care — to be authentic. By implementing these skills, you can engage someone in need while you connect them to one of the truly amazing youth agencies in our city.
While youth homelessness is a difficult topic, many providers commented on how they felt informed and encouraged that they could make changes.
Thank you to our powerhouse of panelists for sharing a lot of knowledge and insight, and for showing us what we can learn if we really listen.
Taylor Muer – Chair of the Youth Advisory Board at Larkin Street Youth Services
Mary Howe – Executive Director, Homeless Youth Alliance
Alan Guttirez – Program Manager, LYRIC
Heather Hargraves – Program Manager, Larkin Street Youth Services
Krista Girty – Director of Health Services, Huckleberry Youth Programs
Ivan Alomar – Senior Youth Advocate, At the Crossroads
Our next Provider Connect event will be a year-end gathering on Thursday, December 3rd, so mark your calendars and keep an eye out for the invitation!