Partnering With Young People to Curb Youth Homelessness in Cleveland

Posted April 5, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young people hanging out

YWCA of Greater Cleveland’s A Place 4 Me, in part­ner­ship with the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Sis­ters of Char­i­ty and Cuya­hoga Coun­ty, Ohio, is work­ing to launch a drop-in cen­ter for young peo­ple ages 16 through 24 who are expe­ri­enc­ing hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty in the com­mu­ni­ty. The drop-in cen­ter is envi­sioned as a crit­i­cal access point to hous­ing resources as well as oth­er ser­vices to sup­port the social, emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal well-being of young people.

The drop-in cen­ter also will address racial inequities to help alle­vi­ate the dis­pro­por­tion­ate rates at which Black youth expe­ri­ence home­less­ness in Cuya­hoga Coun­ty. A Place 4 Me, one of the Foundation’s 17 Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® sites across the coun­try, par­tic­i­pat­ed in a Casey-host­ed racial equi­ty lab to explore ways to include racial equi­ty and the needs of young peo­ple of col­or in their strategies.

Young peo­ple are play­ing inte­gral roles in decid­ing which ser­vices will be pro­vid­ed at the cen­ter, how the phys­i­cal space will feel and who will oper­ate the cen­ter. Half of the paid 14-per­son plan­ning team are youth who have expe­ri­enced home­less­ness or aged out of fos­ter care. Deci­sions are typ­i­cal­ly reached through con­sen­sus with the entire group, and race equi­ty is at the cen­ter of these dis­cus­sions. The core plan­ning team’s young peo­ple and adults are look­ing to empha­size the impor­tance of rep­re­sen­ta­tion with­in the drop-in cen­ter, envi­sion­ing diverse staff to fos­ter a sense of belong­ing for young peo­ple fac­ing home­less­ness. They also will devel­op a sur­vey to obtain input from mem­bers of the Cuya­hoga community.

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing young adults who have expe­ri­enced home­less­ness or aged out of the fos­ter care sys­tem in the deci­sion-mak­ing process is so empow­er­ing because we don’t get a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to have our voic­es heard,” says Kai Cot­ton, who as a youth nav­i­ga­tor for A Place 4 Me helps young peo­ple iden­ti­fy need­ed resources. She added that the young peo­ple on the plan­ning team have tie-break­ing pow­er, so that if reach­ing con­sen­sus on a deci­sion is not pos­si­ble, the group would defer to the youth.

Plan­ning meet­ings are sched­uled around the avail­abil­i­ty of the younger mem­bers of the team — many of whom also are jug­gling work and school.

We think of youth as equal part­ners in the plan­ning team and believe that young peo­ple who’ve expe­ri­enced home­less­ness or hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty have the answers,” says Christie Sozio, asso­ciate direc­tor of A Place 4 Me. They know what young peo­ple need to be suc­cess­ful and we need to make that happen.”

Cuyahoga’s plan­ning process can be used as a nation­al mod­el in cre­at­ing youth-cen­tered solu­tions to youth home­less­ness and hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty, says Kate Lodge, exec­u­tive direc­tor and vice pres­i­dent of strate­gic ini­tia­tives for A Place 4 Me. For orga­ni­za­tions who are inter­est­ed in imple­ment­ing a sim­i­lar drop-in cen­ter for youth in their com­mu­ni­ties, tru­ly lis­ten­ing to the needs of youth is cru­cial, she says.

Think through your organization’s pro­grams and board and begin by hav­ing a dia­logue about what a drop-in cen­ter could mean, what your fears are and how it could ben­e­fit the youth in your com­mu­ni­ty,” adds Lodge. Look with­in your com­mu­ni­ty for any efforts that already exist around end­ing youth home­less­ness and con­sid­er the ben­e­fits of col­lab­o­ra­tion. Part­ner­ships with oth­er youth providers and sys­tems such as home­less ser­vices and child wel­fare are impor­tant to ensure the work is not done in a silo. Look at what lit­tle wins you can start with and give it a try.”

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