Partnering with Higher Education to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness in Prince George’s County, Maryland

December 5, 2019

100-day challenges are part of HUD’s national toolkit to help communities identify and execute innovative practices to end youth and young adult homelessness. They are intended to quickly mobilize communities around a 100-day goal. A goal that not only includes connecting a significant number of young people to housing, but also requires engagement on sub-goals specific to the needs of local participants. These sub-goals often connect to broader public systems that young people are engaged with, including schools and post-secondary institutions.

Housing instability and homelessness impact school stability and contribute to high rates of absenteeism among students identified as experiencing homelessness.  In the United States, more than 7 million students are considered chronically absent , missing 10% or more days of school. Chronic absenteeism leads to poor educational outcomes and is linked to poor outcomes later in life, including poverty.

To strengthen the role of the education system, including higher education, in efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness, the Prince George’s County community established a 100-day challenge goal of housing 100% of students identified as experiencing homelessness, as well connecting 75% of those students to employment. Participants included Prince George’s County Public Schools, Prince George’s Community College, Bowie State University, and University of Maryland, College Park.

Prince George’s County met their 100-day goal of safely and stably housing 100% of the young adult participants. A total of 80% of the young adults who were housed were also connected to employment and/or in educational or training opportunities. Since the 100-day challenge, the community applied and was accepted into HUD’s FY18 Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. Prince George’s County will be awarded $3.48 million to implement their coordinated community plan to prevent and end youth homelessness.

We talked with the team from Prince George’s County about their experience with the 100-day challenge, including their plans to sustain efforts after the challenge ended.

Who was the target population?

In Prince George’s County, homelessness system leaders have been working together to prevent and end youth homelessness since 2012. The community has worked on identifying barriers to services as well as patterns of service utilization. For example, transition-aged youth, ages 18-24, were primarily coming to the shelter system during school breaks, experiencing periodic episodes of homelessness four to five times a year.

The 100-day challenge provided the community an opportunity to focus on transition-aged youth who were either prospective or admitted students affiliated with the institution and identified as experiencing homelessness, being at risk of homelessness, or experiencing instability in housing.

Who were some critical partners?

Important partners in this effort were representatives from the financial departments of the participating higher education institutions because of their unique ability to identify students grappling with financial needs.

We also worked closely with on-campus housing departments that could help match eligible students to year-round on-campus housing, reducing the need for students to seek emergency shelter during school breaks.

What has been a challenge your team overcame in doing this work?

Challenges included clarifying the roles of the various system partners; identifying points of contact students can use when they matriculate to higher education institutions; and determining the best way to offer students services they need.

What have been some of your most significant outcomes?

Placement into housing . The process focused on placing youth into safe and stable housing, including transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and family reunification. Participants recognized that when youth are safely and stably housed, they are more likely to be successful and remain stable as a result of the supportive services they receive, like food assistance and mental health counseling, for example.

Case conferencing . To improve collaboration, case conferencing became part of the fabric of our work.

Reducing communication barriers . The 100-day challenge led to authentic collaboration between the higher education and homelessness response systems. There are now direct connections between social services partners and higher education institutions. Frequent and consistent communication between these partners also helped improve overall stability for students.

Strengthened partnerships . Stronger connections with service providers allowed for more immediate responses to inquiries regarding available beds. Prince George’s County Public Schools hired mentors to prioritize supports for high schools with high numbers of unaccompanied youth. The mentors’ responsibility involved outreach to identified students during times of dire circumstances in order to connect students to housing resources. An example of this work involved outreach during inclement weather.

What was the involvement of youth with lived experience in the 100-day challenge?

A youth with lived experience is a member of the Prince George’s County team and was actively involved in this work. The Youth Action Board worked closely with the lead for the Prince George’s County team. However, youth attendance fell significantly during meeting times that occurred during traditional business hours. The team understands the importance of working to better engage more youth in the work ahead, including supporting their participation while they balance school and other life responsibilities.

What were some of your challenges?

Understanding the challenges experienced by students . An essential component of the process was understanding the challenges students experienced when attempting to access housing through the coordinated entry system, including a disconnect between service providers and students/families’ expectations around communication about service delivery. When the 100-day challenge team understood these challenges and where in the process they were occurring, team members were able to adjust their approach in follow-up with students and families. This in turn strengthened the process in having students and families connected to housing resources through coordinated entry.

Responding to gaps in understanding existing processes. The community recognized there was a gap in knowledge among people who were not involved in the everyday processes of higher education. Recognizing the lack of understanding among the partner organizations about their respective work to address students’ needs proved to be a surprise. The partners worked together to define roles and share how their respective schools approached the issue of addressing homelessness.

Building partnerships takes time and resources. The amount of work involved with the 100-day challenge consumed significant time and energy. This experience was well worth the investment to meet the needs of the students served.

How are you planning to sustain your community’s prevention efforts?

The 100-day challenge team brought new partners to the table during the sustainability review to determine next steps in addressing student needs. This included property management companies, especially those that have experience with Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers.

The sustainability plan for our efforts include:

  • Addressing challenges associated with the state’s tuition waiver and emerging best practices for utilizing this resource.
  • Connecting to the County’s coordinated entry system in order to implement accountability to our approach to housing students.
  • Incorporating language that is used in coordinated entry for this type of service delivery with education system partners.
  • Active participation in the HUD-funded Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program , which supports communities to develop and implement a coordinated community response to youth homelessness. Prince George’s County is one of 23 communities awarded funding as part of the third cohort of YHDP awards.
  • And of course, mandatory fun!

What advice should communities consider if interested in doing this work of reducing youth homelessness?

For communities that are interested in jump-starting or advancing their efforts to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness, it is important to build relationships from the beginning. This includes frequent communication with partners, centering the work around the needs of youth and young adults, incorporating the voices and experiences of the students, and mapping pathways of support for students’ post-secondary educational attainment.

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