Austin collaborative launches program to house homeless youth

Austin Youth Collective

Community leaders charged with housing homeless youth are hesitant to use the phrase “it takes a village,” but that is exactly what they’re building to end youth homelessness by 2020.

The “rapid re-housing” project, a collaboration led by ECHO and LifeWorks and including Caritas and SAFE, is part of the community’s overall Action Plan to End Homelessness, which was announced in July of this year. This particular element of the action plan will focus on people ages 18 to 24 who are currently experiencing homelessness, and move them into housing within 30 to 60 days. Each client would also have a case manager tasked with helping them achieve self-sustainability by providing education and employment support as well as mental health and peer-support services. The project launches on October 1, as part of a larger initiative. Learn more about that here.

While the rapid re-housing model has been a strategy to combat homelessness for a while, local agencies had struggled to find ways to make it work for this specific population, says Susan McDowell, executive director of LifeWorks.

ECHO reports that at least 607 youth experience homelessness on their own in Austin over the course of a year. They tend to have had experience in the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, or both, more than half of the female youth are either pregnant or a parent, and about a quarter of them identify as LGBTQA. Moreover, more than half had experienced trauma or a mental health issue.

The agencies’ previous success in 2016 with a 100-day challenge to house 50 homeless youth gave the agencies new insights. “It really made us look at ourselves as individual agencies to see where could we work more closely together,” said McDowell. “It allowed us to work as a system rather than in our individual silos.”

On the heels of that success, Austin was one of 10 communities across the country to receive a $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to experiment and create a new plan to end youth homelessness. The rapid re-housing project is just one part of that far-reaching plan that also includes diverting youth at-risk of homelessness and creating an emergency shelter specifically for this age group.

A distinguishing element of the efforts to end youth homelessness is the Austin Youth Collective, a group of formerly homeless young people whose direct input helped form some of the driving principles of the project. “The project is informed by data,” said McDowell, “but also informed by youth who have actually lived through the problem we’re trying to solve for.” Lyric Wardlow, a member of the collective and a student at ACC Northridge, said being able to advise on programming has helped give value to her experience.

“There have been times when we talk about shelters, and they have a different view of things because they’ve never lived there and don’t see how it really works,” she said, “So I get to tell them my perspective on things because at 16, that was my situation.”

PHOTO: Members of the Austin Youth Collective to End Homelessness help lead the new collaboration. Back row: Gage, Chante, Taylor, Rhie, Lyric, Alex. Front row: Franklin, Jimmy, Christopher. Photo by Jasmine Brooks.

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