Portland Youth Services, Police Partner to Build Trust with Youth
For youth experiencing homelessness, life on the street often means facing stigma, surviving daily threats to personal safety, and struggling to overcome countless obstacles on the path to stable housing. Youth need a wide network of support to help them access the resources and treatment needed to exit homelessness. As a peer mentor in Portland, Oregon, I work to connect hundreds of homeless youth to essential services each year.
Recently, I was honored by Vice President Joe Biden as a Champion of Change for partnering with the Portland Police Bureau to break down barriers and build trust between police and homeless youth. This recognition reminded me that addressing an issue as complex as homelessness is not done by one or two people alone. It requires the partnership of multiple stakeholders and a shared mission.
In the Portland area, the resources and treatment necessary to help youth exit homelessness are provided through a collaborative effort called the Multnomah County Homeless Youth Continuum. The system’s primary goal is to meet the basic safety and developmental needs of homeless youth by providing a continuum of services and connecting them to the larger support community. It is designed to serve about 1,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 23 each year.
The Homeless Youth Continuum’s mission is guided by these core beliefs:
- All youth have great value and potential
- Youth deserve an opportunity to succeed in school, work, and life
- Stable housing gives youth an opportunity to build better lives
- All youth have the right to a safe and decent place to live
This mission is carried out by a multi-agency model that unites the array of supports and services available to homeless youth. The Homeless Youth Continuum is made up of four partner organizations, whose work is funded by Multnomah County, the city of Portland and other state and federal agencies: Janus Youth Programs, Native American Youth & Family Services, New Avenues for Youth, and Outside In. Together they provide a pipeline of resources, including street-based services, assisting youth with basic needs, case management, education and employment services, and transitional and independent living assistance, all with the goal of moving youth from the streets to independence. Without this collaboration and common mission, it would be impossible to achieve lasting, long-term impact in the lives of the youth we serve.
In the Portland area, this collaboration is not confined to the partnerships within the Homeless Youth Continuum. It extends to outside organizations, including the Portland Police Bureau.
Officers on the city’s downtown foot patrol team, led by Portland Police Bureau Lt. Ric DeLand, are key players in the outreach efforts to homeless youth. Instead of arresting or intimidating homeless youth, Portland Police Bureau officers have built a rapport with them. Officers know these young people by name and are concerned about their wellbeing. As a result, the youth view the officers as allies and resources they can turn to when they are in need of help.
This unique relationship makes the youth feel safe and improves the likelihood that they will seek out services and, eventually, exit homelessness.
This relationship development strategy is at the core of the Homeless Youth Continuum’s service delivery model and is practiced by all of the continuum’s partners. Portland’s approach to youth homelessness demonstrates what is possible when stakeholders unite around a shared goal, and when nontraditional partners – such as law enforcement officers – are engaged as part of the solution.
Celia Luce is a Peer Mentor with Outside In in Portland, Oregon. As a Peer Mentor, she is part of a collaborative effort of the Multnomah County Homeless Youth Continuum to support youth in building recovery and gaining the resources and treatment necessary to exit homelessness.