Region VIII FRICH Supports State’s Efforts to End Homelessness

I had the opportunity last week, along with more than 90 young adults with lived experience of homelessness and provider agency staff, to participate in the Utah Forum on Transition-Aged Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Organized by the Region VIII Federal Regional Interagency Council on Homelessness (FRICH), in partnership with the HUD Utah Field Office, State of Utah, and Utah’s Homeless Services Agencies, the forum was the first event of its kind in the state of Utah.

USICH and our member agencies have been working with federal regional staff to develop and strengthen FRICHs in each of the ten federal regions since 2016. Region VIII’s FRICH, which is comprised of regional federal staff from HUD, HHS, Department of Labor, Department of Education, and other federal agencies in the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, is one that has been meeting regularly for several years. Last year, they convened a similar forum in Colorado.

In an effort to support and catalyze Utah’s work to end youth homelessness, the forum focused on strengthening the options and services for transition-aged youth – ages 16 to 24 – with an emphasis on youth transitioning out of foster care, state custody, or other systems. Throughout the day, participants engaged in a series of small-group discussions on key topics, such as foster care, juvenile justice, education, and employment, and generated recommendations that will inform the development of a statewide plan to strengthen the system of care for young people experiencing homelessness.

Key recommendations included:

Lower barriers to accessing housing and services.

Youth leaders reiterated the need to make housing and services as accessible and low-barrier as possible through a Housing First approach. Youth exiting homelessness into housing are often subject to program requirements, such as maintaining part-time employment or sobriety, in order to retain housing and services. For a young person in transition, these requirements can sometimes be overwhelming and unrealistic. Youth leaders also described the difficulty of navigating the complex maze of housing and services, and highlighted the need for coordinated entry and increased outreach to make these supports as accessible as possible.

Provide more flexibility and variety in housing options for youth, especially for pregnant and/or parenting youth.

Young people need housing solutions tailored to their needs and preferences. Youth highlighted the need for communities to create more flexibility for young people to determine a safe and appropriate living environment of their choosing – for example, by helping to facilitate roommates or shared-housing arrangements, helping young people negotiate shorter-term leases, providing incentives to landlords, and always ensuring that the young people have access to the services and supports they need to maintain their housing. 

Offer strong peer and mentor support.

Throughout the day, youth leaders repeatedly stressed the importance of having a peer or adult mentor – ideally one with lived experience – as a guide through various life transitions. They said a mentor could help young people feel less alone during transitions while also helping them explore and pursue career pathways.   

Promote educational stability and employment opportunities.

Schools, in partnership with child welfare, should ensure that young people can stay in their schools of origin, to the extent possible. School districts should also promote and adopt restorative justice policies and eliminate excessively punitive policies that result in unnecessary suspensions or expulsions. Young people in juvenile detention facilities should receive employment and education opportunities that better prepare them for success upon discharge.

Develop the partnerships that are critical to ending homelessness.

Communities can make greater progress by working toward a more coordinated response through collaborative and coordinated decision-making. Examples of such cross-agency partnerships might include case conferencing between schools and Continuums of Care, formal partnership agreements between child welfare agencies and the homelessness services system, or collaboration between juvenile justice and workforce systems to target youth at risk of homelessness.  

Plan for the future early and often.

Early planning for transitions was a recurring theme that cut across multiple topic areas, including juvenile justice, education, and housing. Participants emphasized the need to strengthen comprehensive transition planning from public systems, including foster care and juvenile justice, so that planning begins early and considers how various needs will be met, including housing, health care, education, employment, transportation, and child care.

Over the next several weeks, the Region VIII FRICH and its partners will use the recommendations gathered at the forum to develop a concrete set of strategies to reduce barriers and improve interagency coordination to better serve young people in crisis. As Utah moves forward in its efforts to develop a more comprehensive, coordinated response to ending youth homelessness, we are excited to follow their progress and share lessons learned with other states and communities working towards a similar goal. 

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