Rural Communities and the 100-Day Challenges on Youth Homelessness: What Comes Next?

Imagine you are given permission for a short period of time to try new things in order to address a tough challenge in your community. Now imagine you are part of a team with the passion, innovation, and determination to try, fail, learn, and try again. Imagine you and your teammates can bring existing resources to the table in innovative ways to figure out solutions to challenges you've been struggling with or didn't even know existed. If things don’t work, you could always stop. But imagine instead that relationships deepened, new insights into the system emerged, mindsets of what is possible shifted, and behaviors changed. This transformation is what we are seeing over and over again in communities participating in the 100-Day Challenges on youth homelessness.

Since 2016, communities across the country have accepted the challenge to tackle youth homelessness over the course of a 100-day period as part of efforts to build a coordinated community response to youth homelessness. Austin, TX, Cleveland, OH, and Los Angeles, CA were the first three communities to participate, led by A Way Home America and the Rapid Results Institute. Eight other communities then followed their lead and participated in Challenges, including Baltimore, MD, Columbus, OH, Hennepin County, MN, Louisville, KY, and Palm Beach County, FL, and King County, Pierce County, and Spokane in Washington State

Most recently, four rural communities launched 100-Day Challenges—Franklin County, ME, Marion County, OR, Gulf Coast, MS, and the Ukiah Valley in Mendocino County, CA—to test approaches to a coordinated community response in regions where challenges of distance and resources can be severe.

I joined the teams at a recent event as they reviewed the lessons from their efforts and began planning for sustainability. The work that has been accomplished over the 100-day period in each of the four communities is exciting and covers a range of important steps forward, including some that are particularly critical for rural communities:

  • Using data to better understand the current landscape of youth homelessness including the use of data dashboards to track outcomes for different sub-populations of youth experiencing homelessness

  • Creating by-name lists and raising funds to develop shelter capacity where none existed before

  • Strengthening youth involvement and building youth leadership into key decision-making processes

  • Developing host home and outreach models tailored to rural areas to address immediate shelter needs while also focusing on permanent housing solutions, including rapid re-housing

  • Developing a network of community-based volunteers and supports to address a lack of transportation resources

  • Strengthening partnerships with child welfare and juvenile justice systems

  • Establishing protocols for continuing the cross-system partnerships

As with other 100-day challenge sites, these four rural communities have demonstrated what is possible when you set bold and ambitious targets and then mobilize people and resources to achieve them. The communities are now focusing on setting new targets as they build upon their accomplishments. Key strategies will include:

  • Employing a youth-centered approach to the work

  • Using data strategically to guide decision-making and establish and track measures of progress

  • Expanding the engagement and involvement of new partners

  • Creating opportunities for open and consistent communication about what is and isn’t working

  • Encouraging risk-taking and willingness to make mistakes

We know that every community has people who have the passion to set ambitious goals and to innovate to reach those goals. The more diverse communities across rural, suburban, and urban America can demonstrate what is possible, the closer we’ll get to ending homelessness for all young people.

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