I leave every West Coast Convening with incredible gratitude for the skill and focus of those attending– leaders addressing youth homelessness along the West Coast. I feel humbled by the quality and spirit of the conversations had during our time together.
In no particular order, here are a few questions I formed while at the April 2016 West Coast Convening in Los Angeles. I hope they spark further questions and thinking for readers.
Can we embrace a “Support & Housing First” philosophy: a safe housing option available for every young person without condition AND the support services as young people need them, wherever they are?
I’ve often wondered why “Housing First” is received poorly by some youth providers and advocates. We want to house young people, right? What’s the beef with this approach? I’ve learned that, as with many methodologies, how we operationalize it matters. One concern with Housing First is that it becomes operationalized as Housing Only, pulling resources from front line supportive services for young people. If dollars are reallocated from outreach, case management and basic needs to housing only we risk housing some at the expense of others who may be unable or unwilling to accept housing just yet. We may also be placing young people in housing without the necessary services available to stay in housing. What could our reframe of Housing First look like? How about “Support and Housing First?”
How can we promote a different conversation across systems and communities around coordinated entry and assessment?
In many of our current conversations on coordinated entry and assessment we talk past one another. The system advocates aren’t heard. The providers aren’t heard. We all keep saying the same thing. (I’m guilty of this …). I am a passionate believer in the importance of coordinating entry to housing across a community. Here are some other things I believe are true:
- 100% high needs kids in one small facility runs the risk of being chaotic for young people and challenging for providers.
- The best matching of young people and housing is about giving young people several options and asking them what will best meet their needs.
- We must address the needs of every young person who walks in our (real or figurative) doors, but not all needed responses will be the direct provision of housing.
What does it actually look like to account for the developmental need of youth and young adults?
What would it look like to get more concrete about the criteria for developmentally appropriate services? How do you know if a program or support is developmentally appropriate? Some “adult” programs certainly are, some “youth” programs may not be. We have had our “youth exceptionalism” challenged by larger systems of care for homeless individuals. This raises for us, I think, a healthy challenge to better articulate what is different about homeless young people and what is needed.
These are only a few of my thoughts – small “ah-ha’s!” during the day-long conversation. I’d be eager for your responses and additions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to continuing the work with smarties up and down the West Coast, and across the United States.
Megan Gibbard is the Director of A Way Home America, the national effort to build the movement to end homelessness among young people. She previously coordinated the regional effort to prevent and end youth homelessness in King County, Washington; and was the Executive Director of Teen Feed, a small agency in Seattle’s University District. Megan has over 10 years of clinical experience with homeless youth. Current volunteer service includes membership on the board of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and Teen Feed. She received her MSW from the University of Washington in 2004 and her LICSW in 2011. She is a sailor and a terrier enthusiast in her spare time.