Council Focuses on Youth Homelessness, Elects New Leaders for 2014

Last week, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness elected Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as its Chair for 2014, transitioning from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. After assuming the gavel, Secretary Donovan praised the Secretary’s Shinseki’s leadership on the Council.

“I'll never forget the very first meeting that we had together, which was on this issue,” said Secretary Donovan . “I left that meeting thinking this is a man on a mission and I was right. Thank you for the inspiration that you provided to all of us, and to me personally. I know you are going to be just as focused on ending homelessness in the next three years and that gives me some comfort. I look forward to continuing to partner with you in the year to come and beyond.”

The Council also elected Tom Perez, the Secretary of the Department of Labor, as Vice Chair for 2014. The Council meeting was attended by Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz; HHS Administration for Children and Families Acting Assistant Secretary, Mark Greenberg; and representatives from all 19 Federal agencies that are members of the Council. In addition to electing its officers for 2014, the Council discussed progress on Opening Doors goals based on the results from the 2013 Point-in-Time Count, and community-level efforts to end youth homelessness.

Progress on Opening Doors Goals and the 2013 Point-in-Time Count Data

Mark Johnston, HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs of the Office of Community Planning and Development, provided the Council with an overview of results from the last Point-In-Time (PIT) count, which were released in November, 2013. He shared that on a single night in January 2013, there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the nation. He also provided an overview of progress on the Opening Doors population goals for Veterans, people experiencing chronic homelessness, families, and youth.

Cecilia Munoz commented that the downward trend across all populations is the result of relentless focus  on the task.  “I regularly bring this work out as an example of the government setting high marks and meeting them because we know how to end homelessness,” Ms. Munoz said. “We can do what many people think is impossible. But it’s not impossible and we have the metrics to show for it.”

Ending Youth Homelessness: Perspectives from the Field

The Council also had the opportunity to hear from experts in two communities about how they have been using USICH’s Framework to End Youth Homelessness.

Leslie Strnisha, Vice President for the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, discussed her organization’s participation in YouthCount!, a public-private partnership to find and count young people experiencing homelessness. They found 129 young people experiencing homelessness in Cleveland. Strnisha explained that her foundation has focused on helping non-profits and other organizations improve their practices so that they can better serve young people who are experiencing homelessness. Some of the most effective and innovative best practices they’ve funded include: 

  • Providing emergency safe places for those youth who are newly homeless, and for victims of human trafficking
  • Permanent supportive housing, scattered and single site models for those with the highest risk factors
  • More intensive transition coaching for those aging out of the foster care system
  • And providing a flexible pool of funding to support youth without a safety net

USICH’s youth framework has and will guide the community’s work, Strnisha said.

“We really applaud this Council for supplying a framework to assist communities in their local planning,” she said. “We know that our community's vulnerable youth belong to all of us and we believe it will take all of us to plan for and carry out this work.”

Megan Gibbard, the Homeless Youth and Young Adult Project Manager with the King County Committee to End Homelessness, provided an overview of her community’s systematic approach to end youth homelessness. Their work starts with a data strategy, which aims to improve multiple efforts to collect and use data to inform their work. Based on the local data, the community selected four goals, including reducing the disproportionate representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and youth of color, and reducing young people’s return to homelessness.

“Preventing an ending to youth and young adult homelessness has emerged as a King County regional priority,” Gibbard said. “We are strengthening and coordinating our capacity to act effectively”

Highlights of King County’s work so far include the collaborative review of data, simple screening at every front door for every young person, a shared, common direction, more than 4 million dollars of new resources from public and private funders, and a deep community commitment to get youth and young adults off the street.

Following the presentations was a robust discussion about the work being done in Cleveland and King County. Learn more about the panelists and these community efforts by reading the expert briefs prepared for the Council by the panelists with Katie Hong from the Raikes Foundation. The Council remains dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness, and all forms of homelessness, as established in Opening Doors.

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