April 21, 2016 Practice Points

National Network for Youth Generates Study on Effective Practices to End Youth Homelessness

By Jessalyn Schwartz

The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) has recently released "What Works to End Youth Homelessness?" This publication defines homeless youth as "12–24 years old, living on their own, without a parent or guardian, and lacking a stable or permanent address." It summarizes the characteristics of homeless youth in America, the existing structure for serving this population, the steps that may be taken to further impact homeless youth, and a range of proposals and ideas of how communities may work to prevent and end this crisis. The study found that family instability, stemming from issues of abuse and neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse or other conflict, systems involvement, residential instability in childhood, and the disconnection from education, employment, and social supports are the leading characteristics of youth experiencing homelessness in the United States. 

NN4Y calls for the collaboration of public systems and community-based organizations to address areas that may allow youth to find stability. Prevention through outreach and advocacy, provision of immediate services, such as food, clothing, transportation etc., the use of emergency shelters for crisis intervention, and family engagement/support are all suggested. Further, the publication discusses the importance of teaching independent living skills, connecting youth to educational opportunities, promoting workforce development, and providing intensive case management, along with culturally-competent services to the disproportionate number of African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, human trafficking victims, and LGBT youth who battle homelessness.

This document outlines further opportunities for research, calling for investment in periodic national studies through the Department of Health and Human Services to determine the prevalence of youth homelessness and the needs and characteristics of the population. NN4Y believes that "multiple source collaboration" between the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, youth risk organizations, foster care, and juvenile justice systems will result in positive change. The organization has provided a proposal for a comprehensive system that may be continuously refined and focuses on interventions to prevent homelessness and provides long-term solutions and aftercare for youth who have suffered with housing instability in the past. NN4Y stresses the importance of differentiating between youth and adult homelessness and the vital need for measurable plans and community involvement to ensure success in the goal of ending youth homelessness in America.

Jessalyn Schwartz is with the ABA Children and the Law Advisory Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts.


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