Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Mon­ica Wil­liams

Com­mu­nity lead­ers charged with hous­ing home­less youths are hes­i­tant to use the phrase “it takes a vil­lage,” but that is ex­actly what they’re build­ing to end youth home­less­ness by 2020.

The “rapid re-hous­ing” project, a col­lab­o­ra­tion led by the End­ing Com­mu­nity Home­less­ness Coali­tion and LifeWorks and in­clud­ing Car­i­tas and the Stop Abuse For Ev­ery­one, is part of the com­mu­nity’s over­all Ac­tion Plan to End Home­less­ness, which was an­nounced in July.

This par­tic­u­lar el­e­ment of the ac­tion plan will fo­cus on peo­ple ages 18 to 24 who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, and move them into hous­ing within 30 to 60 days. Each client would have a case man­ager tasked with help­ing them achieve self-sus­tain­abil­ity by pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment sup­port, as well as men­tal health and peer-sup­port ser­vices. The project launches Oct. 1.

While the rapid re-hous­ing model has been a strat­egy to com­bat home­less­ness for a while, lo­cal agen­cies had strug­gled to find ways to make it work for this spe­cific pop­u­la­tion, says Su­san McDow­ell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of LifeWorks.ECHO re­ports that at least 607 youths ex­pe­ri­ence home­less­ness on their own in Austin over the course of a year. They tend to have had ex­pe­ri­ence in the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, the foster care sys­tem, or both. More than half of the fe­male youths are ei­ther preg­nant or a par­ent, and about a quar­ter of them iden­tify as LGBTQA. More­over, more than half had ex­pe­ri­enced trauma or a men­tal health is­sue.

The agen­cies’ suc­cess in 2016 with a 100-day chal­lenge to house 50 home­less youths gave the agen­cies new in­sights.

“It re­ally made us look at our­selves as in­di­vid­ual agen­cies to see where could we work more closely to­gether,” said McDow­ell. “It al­lowed us to work as a sys­tem rather than in our in­di­vid­ual si­los.”

On the heels of that suc­cess, Austin was one of 10 com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try to re­ceive a $5.2 mil­lion grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment to ex­per­i­ment and cre­ate a new plan to end youth home­less­ness. The rapid re-hous­ing project is just one part of that far-reach­ing plan that also in­cludes di­vert­ing youths at-risk of home­less­ness and creat­ing an emer­gency shel­ter specif­i­cally for this age group. A dis­tin­guish­ing el­e­ment of the ef­forts to end youth home­less­ness is the Austin Youth Col­lec­tive, a group of for­merly home­less young peo­ple whose di­rect in­put helped form some of the driv­ing prin­ci­ples of the project. “The project is in­formed by data,” said McDow­ell, “but also in­formed by youth who have ac­tu­ally lived through the prob­lem we’re try­ing to solve for.”

Lyric Ward­low, a mem­ber of the col­lec­tive and a stu­dent at ACC Northridge, said be­ing able to ad­vise on pro­gram­ming has helped give value to her ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There have been times when we talk about shel­ters, and they have a dif­fer­ent view of things be­cause they’ve never lived there and don’t see how it re­ally works,” she said. “So I get to tell them my per­spec­tive on things be­cause at 16, that was my sit­u­a­tion.”


The Austin Youth Col­lec­tive to End Home­less­ness. Back row: Gage, Chante, Tay­lor, Rhie, Lyric, Alex. Front: Franklin, Jimmy, Christo­pher.

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