The HYP is a project of the CA Research Bureau dedicated to educating local and state policymakers about unaccompanied youth who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. Learn more at http://cahomelessyouth.library.ca.gov/
I hit a big milestone this month, celebrating 5 years with the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP) on September 9th. During this time I’ve learned so much both professionally and personally that I can’t possibly capture in a blog post, but I would like to share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned and express my gratitude to the many who have supported me along the way.
The CHYP has taught me that championing the voices of young people who have or are currently experiencing homelessness is one of the best strategies to effect meaningful change. However, it’s taken years of internalizing that approach to actually translate it into my own life. Recently, I’ve become much more vocal about my own story, realizing that having survived homelessness, my lived experience is an asset rather than a deficit. I recognize that my own experiences with profound housing instability are not universal, however, I think it has been helpful for me to contextualize the research by putting a face and a story to the complex challenges facing us in ending youth homelessness, and challenge stereotypes about who in our society might by impacted.
Lastly, I am thankful to my colleagues* in this field who have watched me grow at the California Homeless Youth Project from an Intern to a Consultant to Director in pretty short order, had faith in my ability to take on this position, and have helped me to rise to the challenge. Working at the CHYP for five years now, I know all too well how few voices there are on youth homelessness at the state-level, but I’m proud to be one of them. It’s a position I take very seriously, and I am committed to continuing to work hard at it, because I know that the children, teens and young adults experiencing homelessness are working hard every day to survive, and so must we.
- Shahera Hyatt, CHYP Director
*Special thanks to Patricia Julianelle, Colette Auerswald, Jess Lin, Paul Curtis, Kim Lewis, Arlene Schneir, Heather Carmichael, Matthew Doherty, Sherilyn Adams, Daphne Hunt, Jama Shelton, Patricia Johnson, Nell Bernstein, Ginny Puddefoot, Brian Sala, and Amy Lemley for being such inspiring mentors and friends. I am indebted to you all!
Hidden in plain sight, youth have been historically overlooked and undercounted in local, state, and federal efforts to enumerate the homeless population. But efforts to better understand the prevalence of youth homelessness are underway, as 2013 marked the first year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) required communities to include unaccompanied minors and transition age youth in their Point-in-Time (PIT) counts of homeless individuals.
Members of the local Continuum of Care involved in PIT count planning, youth service providers, and McKinney-Vento school district liaisons are invited to attend a regional convening in which participants will:
·Explore how to incorporate promising practices and overcome common barriers in counting homeless youth during the Point-in-Time count
·Collaborate with local and regional partners to exchange ideas and build capacity
·Develop initial plans for youth-inclusive or youth-focused 2015 PIT counts
·Discuss the importance of better data on homeless youth, and its impact on programs and policy at the local, state, and national level
Travel stipends are available to support participation in the convening.
Following the training series, communities will have the opportunity to apply for seed grants to implement youth-focused initiatives in their 2015 counts.
For more information, please contact Coco Auerswald (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jess Lin (email@example.com; 415.326.6103), and Laura Petry (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We look forward to working together to move the needle forward around this issue!
Project Director Shahera Hyatt speaks at the Runaway and Homeless Youth Action Month rally at the State Capitol on November 7th, 2013. Thanks to our friends at the California Coalition for Youth for hosting the event and taking so many pictures!
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are more likely to become homeless than their heterosexual peers. The most commonly cited factor contributing to LGBT youth homelessness is family rejection on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, only 40% of service provider programs are specifically designed to address family rejection amongst LGBT homeless youth.
In recent years, a number of communities across the US have passed laws criminalizing the very existence of homeless individuals. In these cities and towns, people living on the street are ticketed for loitering, illegal lodging, panhandling, and other life-sustaining activities for what are commonly called “quality of life” offenses. This criminalization further penalizes homeless people by imposing fines or jail time for the life-sustaining activities that are a natural consequence of being homeless.
(Photo Credit: Dave Kempa)
At the same time, however, the state of California has achieved a few minor successes in undoing the criminalization of homelessness in recent legislative sessions. In 2011, for example, former Assembly member Nathan Fletcher (R-75th) authored AB 1111, prohibiting the garnishment of wages from persons under the age of 25 who have been issued a citation for quality of life offenses if the court obtains information that the person is homeless. However, youth have to eventually pay the fines after 5 years, or once they become permanently housed.
This legislation developed largely out of issues raised in our documentary, Voices from the Street: Homeless Youth Speak Out on State Policy, in which we hear the story of a young man named Sqoll. Sqoll tells us that he stays at a local shelter for homeless youth, except on the nights when he works late and has to sleep at the train station. He has a job at Citibank and decides to open an account in order to help him save for his own apartment. It was the nights when he slept at the train station that he would get ticketed and fined for “illegal camping.” These fines went unpaid as Sqoll struggled to save up enough money to get his own apartment and effectively end his homelessness. But before he could do that, collections found his bank account and seized the $900 in it. The irony is that the penalization he suffered for not having a permanent stable place to live in fact kept him from having a permanent stable place to live.
Advocates at the Children’s Advocacy Institute moved by Sqoll’s plight (and the plight of many others with similar stories) sponsored AB 1111 which was subsequently signed into law by Governor Brown.
Similarly, AB 508, authored by Assembly members Calderon (D-Whittier) and Ammiano (D-San Francisco) delays wage garnishment for homeless veterans ticketed for quality of life offenses for up to 5 years. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly 75-0 on Monday, and, while it hasn’t been signed by the Governor yet, the strong bipartisan support seems to indicate an understanding among elected officials that this cycle of criminalization doesn’t really make sense.
The question of the efficacy of quality of life laws remains in many states and for other demographic groups in the homeless population that haven’t yet been exempt from wage garnishment by legislative efforts. While we still have a long way to go, decriminalizing homelessness is cited by youth we interviewed as their number one policy priority, giving us hope that this is a case where “as California goes, so goes the nation.”
Where are you originally from? I was born and raised between Boston and Cambridge.
How old are you? 20 years old.
What was it like growing up? My childhood was good. My family did provide the basics. I do remember being a kid and imagining more for my life. I did not aspire for this. No one wants to be homeless. I hope that people read this and understand… no one sets out to be on the street. Its just that life happens, and it can happen to anyone. Growing up I was told not to judge anyone, so I hope people don’t judge me.
How long have you been homeless?
I have been homeless for three years.
How did you become homeless?
I ran away from home. I don’t feel good talking about why I ran away. Speaking about it is very difficult for me. Unfortunately, when you’re living on the street you get exposed to different things and so I started taking drugs. It is something that I constantly battle with everyday.
A few months ago, I woke up in the hospital, and my boyfriend and the doctors were looking down at me as I lay in the hospital bed. They told me that I had a drug overdose. My boyfriend is the only support that I have out here, and he also struggles with addiction. I love him a lot. But it is difficult to try and help him with his problems when I can’t even help myself. I am hoping for a miracle so that we both can get “clean” soon and get off the streets.
What is your biggest struggle being homeless?
I would say it is the bridges that I’ve burned with my family and friends. My addiction has created so many problems between me and my family. I don’t even know where to start to make amends. Every time that I think I’ve got this thing beat, I let them down. It hurts because I miss my family but I understand why they stay away.
The most prominent theme that we observed at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference was the need for consistent and better data. In every workshop, this theme echoed as presenters urged service providers to get involved with their local Continuum of Care (CoC). As part of our blog series on lessons learned from the conference, we write about the importance of data and how you can get involved.
Why is data so important in the fight to end homelessness?
Data is one of the most important tools we have when it comes to ending homelessness because it allows us to have a confident estimate of the scale and scope of the problem. Once we know the magnitude of the situation we can be aware of the policy response and resources needed.
Data is also vital because it allows us to know what is and isn’t working.It also allows us to measure outcomes so service providers can be consistently informed and equipped with the most effective strategies for getting youth off the streets. Outcomes validate the importance of these programs in ending youth homelessness.
Approaches to get better data.
An important step in the direction of acquiring better data is coordinating our data collection systems: RHYMIS and HMIS. By integrating the systems under a united standard we would have consistent data and at the same time reduce burden on grantees.
Collaboration between schools, RHY providers, CoCs, and formerly homeless youth while doing the Point-in-Time (PIT) counts is essential when it comes to finding youth that would have otherwise not been visible during the count.
When is the PIT count happening?
The HUD-mandated biennial count is happening January 2013. Contact your CoC for specific dates.
Both Nan Roman (President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness) and Secretary Kathleen Sebellius (Secretary of Health and Human Services) urged participants of the conference to get involved with their local CoCs upcoming PIT count. This year will be the first year that HUD will require transition aged youth (ages 18-24) to be counted, making this an extremely crucial count in acquiring an accurate gauge of how many homeless youth are on the streets.
How can YOU get involved with helping improve your local community’s PIT count?
to help CoCs more accurately count homeless youth in California.If you are in charge of your communities Continuum of Care, we urge you to take a look , or contact your representatives, provide them with the information, and volunteer that January night.
To look for your local CoC in the state of California look hereor here
In our 2008 report, Voices from the Street: A Survey of Homeless Youth by Their Peers, the number one recommendation we heard from youth was to undo the criminalization of homelessness, which they saw as exacerbating their housing instability. So it struck me when today, our Twitter timeline was filled with tweets that linked to the recent article by USA Today, "Cities’ homeless crackdown: Could it be compassion fatigue?" The article highlights the recent trend in implementing legislation that strengthens anti-camping, anti-feeding, and anti-panhandling laws. This trend is happening in cities across the United States and is currently “pitting city officials against homeless advocates”.
City Officials feel that these bans help ensure dignity and promote access to other types of services for the homeless. For example, feeding programs that occur indoors can act as starting points for people experiencing homelessness to begin to explore other services that can help them.
However, advocates for the homeless argue that these types of bans are counterproductive and in fact, perpetuate homelessness, dramatically affecting the well being of youth living on the streets. In one of our videos, the young man says “What do you want me to do? You’re [Police Officers] telling me, ‘don’t sleep in the park, don’t sleep in the street.’ What do you want me to do? You can’t just magically not be homeless.” (:30) These laws penalize homeless youth on the streets and often foster a hostile relationship between youth and police officers. The implementation of these bans leads to tickets and fines, giving homeless youth criminal records and making it harder for them to get jobs.
City officials and homeless advocates are both right. It is imperative for us to provide services and dignity to homeless people, especially youth. Services can range from educational programs to transitional housing, allowing youth to learn how to become independent and self-sufficient. It is equally important for our society to consider alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness. Fortunately, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness released a report on alternatives to criminalizing homelessness. You can find it here. Once legislators, homeless advocates, and community members come together, then we can move in the direction of finding an end to homelessness.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) homeless youth face particular challenges on the streets due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The National Alliance to End Homelessness discusses these issues in their latest brief, LGBTQ Youth Policy Statement, and suggests policy solutions for addressing these challenges, which include:
-promoting a culturally competent approach to service delivery
-ensuring nondiscriminatory access to housing resources
-supporting family intervention that addresses conflict over sexual orientation and gender identity
-promoting supportive services models that take into account the needs and experiences of LGBTQ youth
-including LGBTQ youth in data collection
The HYP’s issue brief, Struggling to survive: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning homeless youth on the streets of California, also addresses LGBT homeless youth and the challenges they face. NAEH’s action steps are consistent with what we heard from service providers. Follow the link below to read the full HYP issue brief.