Unaccompanied homeless youth are an extremely vulnerable group. Living on their own—without the support of parents or guardians, and without a safe, stable home—many of them stay temporarily with friends or live in abandoned houses, on the street, or in locations not meant for habitation. The 2017 Youth REACH MD count, a survey of homeless youth and service providers in Maryland, identified 1,690 unaccompanied homeless youth in Baltimore City—a nearly 20 percent increase from the 2015 Youth REACH count. As described in a December 2016 Abell Report, “No Place to Call Home,” these young people are largely disconnected from homeless service providers who have traditionally focused on serving homeless adults or families with young children. Living on their own and without stable housing, they are at risk for a broad range of negative outcomes, including school drop-out, unplanned pregnancy, addiction, physical abuse, mental health disorders, unemployment, and chronic adult homelessness.
While homeless youth are sometimes referred to as an “invisible population” and can be difficult to identify, service providers in Baltimore have begun to recognize the unique needs of this population and develop programs to address those needs. Drawing on the recommendations in the 2016 Abell Report on youth homelessness and other research, the Abell Foundation has funded a number of programs that aim to support and empower homeless youth to find permanent housing and achieve stability.
Point Source Youth
Point Source Youth (PSY) was founded in 2015 with a mission of eliminating youth homelessness in 50 cities within 10 years. Drawing on international research on the needs of homeless youth, PSY created a three-part model for addressing youth homelessness:
- Mental health services focused on strengthening ties with families, with a goal of reunifying homeless youth with family members when feasible and safe for the young person;
- Short-term home stays in “host homes,” a model that has been used successfully in England and Canada to house homeless youth in private homes rather than shelters; and
- Rapid rehousing, which features short-term rent subsidies and assistance in finding apartments on the private market.
PSY launched its model in Minneapolis in 2016, and in 2017, expanded to Baltimore, San Jose, and New York City. In future years, PSY will expand to serve additional cities, and will share the results of its efforts with cities and homeless service providers throughout the country.
In April 2017, the Abell Foundation awarded a $30,000 grant to support implementation of PSY’s pilot program in Baltimore. The host home program has recruited and trained 21 hosts to date and has begun to place homeless youth in these homes, with a goal
of serving 10 to 15 youth in the program’s first year. The rapid rehousing program, operated by the YES drop-in center, is expected to place 38 youth in private rental housing in the first year of the PSY pilot. The family strengthening therapy program will work to address the conflicts between homeless youth and their family members that led to the separation, and will attempt to reunify when it is safe and feasible to do so.
An evaluation will measure the impact of the PSY model on six outcomes: housing stability, income, physical health and safety, psychosocial well-being, self-acceptance, and social connections, and will follow youth for two years after program completion.
Homeless Persons Representation Project
In September 2012, the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) launched the Homeless Youth Initiative (HYI) to provide legal assistance to unaccompanied homeless youth in Baltimore and to advocate for policy solutions to youth homelessness. The HYI provides individual client representation in cases involving housing, public benefits, and expungement of criminal records. While HYI has a successful track record of representing homeless youth, the demand for legal services for this population exceeds the capacity of the single HYI staff attorney.
In June 2017, the Abell Foundation awarded a $200,000 two-year grant to HPRP to launch the Homeless Youth Legal Network, a network of private attorneys that provides pro bono legal services to homeless youth in Baltimore. The project is supported by technical assistance from the American Bar Association, which selected HPRP as one of 12 sites in the country to participate in a new Homeless Youth Legal Network Model Program.
HPRP has recruited and trained 15 pro bono attorneys to date, with expertise in the following subject areas that represent common legal needs of homeless youth: consumer, family, landlord-tenant, foster care, name/gender change, and criminal record expungement. At the same time, the HYI staff attorney continues to represent homeless youth in individual cases and holds legal clinics at two community sites that serve large populations of homeless youth.
In addition to providing direct legal representation of homeless youth, the HYI staff attorney worked with other advocates and with homeless youth to advocate for passage of the Ending Youth Homelessness Act, a new state law that creates a grant program to fund housing and supportive services for homeless youth.
Since it opened in 2012, the Youth Empowered Society (YES) Drop-In Center has served homeless youth ages 14 to 25, providing counseling, peer support, connections to resources, and a safe place for the youth to meet their basic
needs. The services provided by YES staff include employment readiness and job placement support; housing assistance, including financial assistance with security deposits and short-term rent subsidies; case management; assistance in accessing public benefits and getting required identification documents; mental health care; tutoring; advocacy in criminal justice proceedings; and a leadership development program that engages YES clients in public policy advocacy.
In June 2017, the Abell Foundation awarded a $35,000 grant to the YES Center to support its operations. The YES Center was one of the first organizations in Baltimore created with the specific purpose of serving homeless youth, and it continues to play a critical role in meeting the needs of this population.
Over the past year, YES has grown its housing and employment programs and currently operates the only rapid rehousing program for youth in Baltimore.
YES expects to place 40 youth in housing and connect 60 youth to employment opportunities in the current fiscal year. In addition, YES youth played a key role in advocating for passage of the Ending Youth Homelessness Act, traveling to Annapolis on multiple occasions to testify in support of the bill and speak with legislators.
Information published in July 2018.