Examining Non-Time-Limited Youth Supportive Housing as Part of a Coordinated Community Response to End Homelessness
Stable housing is the foundation upon which everything else in a family’s or individual’s life is built -without a stable, affordable place to live, it is much tougher to maintain good health, get a good education, or reach your full potential.
Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness
Creating opportunities for vulnerable people to realize their full potential is at the forefront of our work to end homelessness and requires time and patience. Flexibility is particularly important when we examine the best ways to help youth experiencing and at risk of homelessness — young people on the cusp of adulthood with their whole lives ahead of them — reach their full potential.
Many of these youth have been through difficult, traumatic ordeals: sexual abuse, family separation and rejection, histories of foster care placement and involvement with the juvenile justice system, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, substance use issues, and/or other challenges. They may have spent time staying in temporary settings with friends or living in shelters or on the streets.
To meet all the physical, developmental, and social needs of youth experiencing homelessness, we must design and implement a unified, collaborative response in every community. Within this framework, non-time-limited supportive housing is one intervention that has been identified as a critical component of a community’s ability to effectively serve youth with complex challenges and needs. Housing for youth that is not time-limited but offers supportive services and the opportunity for youth to move towards independence at their own pace can be tailored specifically for the highest-need youth: those with intense medical, mental health, and/or substance use disorders.
One thing we’ve learned about reaching full potential is that everyone is unique and there is no cookie-cutter approach. The reason why we encourage person-centered planning and assessment as an essential component of any intervention is because each individual who has experienced homelessness has varied experiences, needs, and healing clocks. It’s no different for youth.
Some providers have found success with supportive housing for high-need youth that does not include time limits. Many also are providing trauma-informed services that address the physical, socio-emotional, intellectual, and life skills development of youth on a pathway to adulthood. And early data suggests it’s working.
For example, New York’s West End Residence True Colors youth supportive housing embraces young adults with histories of homelessness and active substance use disorders. Data presented on a cohort of 30 youth demonstrates they achieved the most growth possible in supportive housing and then successfully transitioned to other arrangements when ready and able to do so. The stability that comes with a permanent home and access to needed services is not hindering their progress. Quite the contrary, it is giving these youth a strong platform from which to climb higher to reach their full potential.
One young man, Henry, moved into True Colors after experiencing years of street homelessness. Unable to fully conquer his crystal meth addiction, he turned to sex for money to feed his habit and became a victim of trafficking. Once housed in supportive housing, he worked with staff to address the significant trauma in his history — substance use and unresolved family issues of neglect and maltreatment. Henry did not heal overnight. For every step forward there were sometimes two steps back. But with the help of a strong case manager, specialists, and peers, he pulled his life together. He found stability and then a job and was able to move on from supportive housing. As an outreach worker helping young adults in need of addiction services, Henry is giving back to the community and planning to attend school for a degree in social work. He is just one of many staying out of homelessness and reaching their full potential because of an intervention — in this case, non-time-limited youth supportive housing — that was able to provide him with the most appropriate response to his needs and strengths.
As we work to achieve the goal of ending youth homelessness in 2020, it is critical to further explore the range of interventions that can best meet the needs of all young people. Our strategy is a simple one: identify and expand the models that we know work to end youth homelessness so that even the most vulnerable young people in our society have the best opportunities and chances to reach their full potential.
As we continue to learn about youth supportive housing and increase our understanding of the efficacy of the non-time-limited approach, we will highlight examples of promising practice and pinpoint tools and resources for communities to strengthen their existing array of interventions. Through a coordinated community response, we have the capacity to prevent and end youth homelessness.