January 17, 2019

Ending youth homelessness in Southern Nevada explored

With the American Bar Association hosting its Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas, the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty held a Jan. 25 program to address the problem of homelessness among youth in Southern Nevada.

The issue is of critical concern, as Southern Nevada has the third-highest prevalence of youth homelessness in the nation.

The Southern Nevada Homeless Continuum of Care in 2017 documented 2,096 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness – nearly a third of the entire homeless population in the area – in its annual point-in-time count. Even more alarming, the research indicates that 93 percent of these youth are sleeping either outside or in places not meant for human habitation, like a car or an abandoned building.

Arash Ghafoori, executive director of Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, said the cause of such a high rate of homelessness in his state includes several factors, such as geography, the warmer climate and the fact that it’s a major sex trafficking corridor.

“Nevada is a 24/7 city, so it’s a great place for homeless youth to hide,” Ghafoori said. “It offers a diversity of industry and the opportunity for youth and families to become homeless together.”

In response to the growing problem, a group of local stakeholders released in November the area’s first-ever plan to end youth homelessness. The blueprint, called “The Southern Nevada Plan to End Youth Homelessness,” was developed as an area-wide effort by several local providers and stakeholders.

“The mission is to eliminate homelessness among Nevada’s youth,” said Casey Trupin, program officer for the Raikes Foundation’s youth homelessness strategy. “We want to equip lawyers to do the work in a holistic way and to provide holistic legal representation.”

With the collaboration of a diverse group of funders, national experts, community stakeholders, and youth and young adults who have experienced homelessness, the southern Nevada plan was developed as a roadmap for its many partners to prevent and end youth homelessness.

Partners include the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth; Las Vegas Sands; Clark County Social Service; the SNH CoC collaborative applicant; the SNH CoC Planning Working Group, represented by the City of Las Vegas; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Greenspan College of Urban Affairs; Young Adults in Charge and Southern Nevada’s Youth Action Board; the National Network for Homeless Youth; and SchoolHouse Connection.

The plan includes five goals:

  1. Identify all unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness.
  2. Use prevention and diversion strategies whenever possible, and otherwise provide immediate access to low-barrier crisis housing and services to any youth who needs and wants it.
  3. Use coordinated entry processes to effectively link all youth experiencing homelessness to housing and services that are tailored to their needs.
  4. Act with urgency to swiftly assist youth to move into permanent or non-time-limited housing options that provides appropriate services and support resources.
  5. Use resources, plans and system capacity in place to continue to prevent and quickly end future experiences of homelessness among youth.

According to its developers, the plan will be deemed successful when the community’s coordinated response system can ensure homelessness among unaccompanied youth is rare, brief, one-time and rightfully addressed.

“We have to get our homeless youth out of survival mode, build trust with them so they feel comfortable engaging in other areas and developing their life skills, including family unification,” Ghafoori said.

The plan also works with youth partnerships to include students and homeless youth in decisions that will ultimately impact individuals like themselves.

“Homeless youth need to be able to ask legal questions and need to feel safe doing so. Youth need this resource and deserve it,” Ghafoori said.

Experts also convened a roundtable discussion to share ideas on what’s currently working and what needs to be improved. The roundtable included representatives from law enforcement, the legal community, social services, schools, ACLU and advocates for homeless youth.

Program successes include specially trained law enforcement officers who work directly with homeless youth to direct them to services and resources without pressing criminal charges and tying them up in the courts; social services programs that encourage homeless youth to complete their GED and to seek community involvement and support programs; and the City of Los Angeles Courtyard, which enlists homeless services technicians to treat citizens and provide services 24 hours a day, to name a few.

Some of the challenges highlighted included the local police department, social services, schools and advocacy groups working together to communicate their various plans of action in addressing homeless youth in Southern Nevada.

Other challenges discussed included quashing warrants; barriers to proper medical treatment for minor homeless youth with parents that have committed fraud; sex-trafficking; police conducting sweeps and threatening to arrest homeless youth and throw away their belongings; schools having difficulty providing support and services to transient and unaccompanied youth, to name a few.

In addition, there is major inequity in the legal system in the treatment of youth of color and of LGBTQ youths. “We cannot resolve homelessness without resolving the issue of inequality,” Trupin said.

Many of these issues and more are addressed in a key resource referenced during the program titled, “Educating Students Experiencing Homelessness, 5th Edition.”

In addition, program participants recommended developing a short-term “hit list” to begin to address many of these challenges, including:

·        Working with the ABA to partner on laws and policies to help navigate priorities and breakdown long-term policy goals;

·        Producing a resource guide to help educate youth on their rights; and

·        Train more pro bono attorneys to assist homeless youth,

“Without the proper tools and resources to address their specific needs, youth are likely to return to homelessness,” said Melissa Jacobowitz, director of development and evaluation, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.

“There are many barriers to be addressed not just locally but regionally and nationally,” Trupin said. “However, we want to spread the word about programs that are doing great work around the country and shine a light on this work.”

Other panelists included Craig H. Baab, moderator and chair, ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty; Darla Bardine, National Network for Youth; and Katie Brown, SchoolHouse Connection.

For more information on the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, visit www.nphy.org.