New England Federal Regional Interagency Council Provides Leadership on Ending Youth Homelessness
The New England Federal Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness is working to advance federal interagency cooperation, collaboration, and regional-level leadership that supports federal, state and local partners’ efforts across New England to end homelessness. The Council, which is part of a USICH-led initiative to advance regional interagency collaboration across the country, convenes interagency working groups composed of federal, state, and community partners to focus on priority issues and activities. Representatives from various sectors, including federal, state, philanthropy, service providers, and youth, act as mutually enriching thought partners that seek to engage systems more effectively to meet the goals of Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.
Late last year, the Federal Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness convened the New England Ending Youth Homelessness Summit in partnership with Liberty Mutual Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust. We brought together key federal, state and local partners as well as community leaders and other stakeholders from all six states. Over 130 stakeholders gathered at the headquarters of Liberty Mutual Foundation to hear from youth, expand their knowledge of model policy and practice, and to forge new partnerships with federal, state, and community leaders.
The Summit’s Agenda featured speakers presenting on national as well as state and local model programs and policies. Robert Pulster from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness introduced the federal framework to end youth homelessness and underscored the need to use data from various sources. Aimee Hendrigan, at the Melville Charitable Trust, discussed the purpose and launch of A Way Home America’s 100-Day Challenges across the country. She highlighted the role philanthropy can play as a partner in this critical arena.
Young adults who had previously struggled with homelessness offered advice to policy leaders at the summit. “Find youth before they hit rock bottom,” said Artemis Fontaine, a youth with lived experience of homelessness. He reminded summit participants to reach kids who feel disconnected and alone. These youth are often unaware of available services and how to access them. Kera Pingree was a new teen mother and homeless. She found it difficult to attend school with the “one size fits all” approach that failed to address her needs as a vulnerable young parent. Kera eventually found a place to live and finished school with the help of staff at Preble Street in Portland, Maine.
Diverting youth from a single incidence or several bouts of homelessness yields significant benefits. Distraught and with little hope of support, youth living on the street often to turn to risky behaviors that lead to long-term mental health challenges, dropping out of school, crime or entre into human trafficking. When vulnerable youth get connected to housing, education, jobs and adults who care, they find a path to a more secure and productive future.
Many states lack youth-focused housing and shelter options, but the forum highlighted some innovative examples. Elizabeth Jackson, Executive Director of the Boston-based Bridge Over Troubled Waters, discussed their innovative work developing co-op apartments for youth aging out of foster care and their strategies for funding these exemplary projects. Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run shelter associated with the Phillips Brooks House at Harvard University, offers up to 22 young adults ages 18-24 an array of services and support. Y2Y provides case management, medical and mental health care and legal aid for guests to build their pathway out of homelessness. This youth-to-youth approach lowers barriers to trust and is cost-efficient.
The Youth Homelessness Workgroup of the New England Federal Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness used the findings from the Summit to craft priorities for 2017 which include: connecting more youth providers and schools with Continuum of Care networks, educating school leadership about the impact of youth homelessness on school climate and student outcomes, and facilitating a learning community for stakeholders interested in building capacity to end youth homelessness by 2020. As the lead agency on the workgroup, ACF believes that housing and human service programs need to work closely together through state and local partnerships to prevent both youth and families from becoming homeless.
Read the full Summit Report.