Listening & Learning from Our Youth
Young people facing housing instability and homelessness hold the key to preventing and ending youth homelessness.
When they have a seat at the decision-making table, young people present innovative and effective strategies. Collaborating with youth creates real system-wide change that impacts their futures, and that of their peers. As Phoebe, a young person with lived experience, puts it:
“Being a part of youth homelessness work – as a young person that was still homeless – was a transformative experience for me. It completely changed my ideas of what a black Trans Woman from the south with no 'higher education' could do with her life. Being able to create change in tangible ways has often solidified my worth when it wavered for me … It truly showed me how passionate I am about more young people having access to the opportunities that I had and being intentional about the equity in this work.”
CSH is sharing stories of youth collaboration, told by young people who are working to create an inclusive and equitable society. We are committed to elevating examples of how youth and young adults are creating impact through their experiences, and how we are listening and learning from them.
Effectively Serving Our Youth
Damon’s experience in collaborating with programs and larger systems to reform and change them is eye-opening. He says:
“Youth voice is important when we are trying to help them move forward in life and grow in a positive way because there is a fundamental lack of understanding on the end of providers in certain areas on how youth live through and experience homelessness. As someone from that background, I've used my past experiences to relate to and better connect with people suffering from homelessness, trauma, and abuse, and used those experiences to speak out on the issues faced by youth in our rural communities …. [I] will continue to do so in a more active way as I have been hired as a service provider within my community. The youth voice is important and the most vital part when it comes to properly serving them … and I feel that having service providers and youth sitting down in meetings where the youth can participate and voice concerns and opinions, and suggest new routes to combat homelessness has had a positive impact overall."
Damon's commitment and efforts to focus on effective ways to coordinate and deliver services reminds us why it is important to share what we are learning from young people with lived experience.
Saying YES to Our Youth
In his own words, we are introducing Milo’s experience in collaborating with programs and larger systems:
"Since the age of 15, I have been mostly on my own. I couch surfed a lot at 15 and 16 due to an unstable home life. At 16, I moved completely out of my mom's house in Idaho and into Washington State. I started going to school there and the counselor connected me to Youth Emergency Services (YES). Through YES, I was able to be confident again. They helped me get into a host home, get emancipated, finish high school early, move into a long-term home, and start college. It was through the help and compassion of the people at YES that I realized I wanted to help people who are going through similar situations. A case manager at YES recommended me for the Y4Y position for our region. I am now the chair person for my region and I love being able to make my negative past experiences into something that helps me know how to help others who are going through homelessness. I am now majoring in Social Services in college and I want to be able to help people for the rest of my life."
YES is just one provider out of many that work, every day, to collaborate with youth to change the homelessness response system for the better. More efforts like this one are needed to engage young people with lived experience as leaders and equal partners in the fight to prevent and end youth homelessness.
We All Can Help
Providers are beginning to understand the importance of youth collaboration, but more work is needed to engage young people with lived experience as leaders and equal partners. Phoebe, Damon, and Milo continue to need our encouragement and support...and so does Susan.
Susan works for a reputable community-based service provider. Despite years of experience, she struggles to find resources to financially support young people eager to offer their expertise. Like CSH, she believes they bring a unique set of experiences to the conversation that can fundamentally change the way agencies deliver housing and services to vulnerable youth and young adults, but she lacks the funds to cultivate the next generation of leaders.
All of us should help Susan and other providers like her engage young people with lived experience in homelessness, bringing underrepresented, yet powerful, ideas to the table.