White House Youth Policy Briefing Celebrates Progress, Explores Next Steps

Earlier this month, the White House, True Colors Fund, and USICH hosted the second annual Policy Briefing on Ending Youth Homelessness. This was an exciting opportunity to reconvene with stakeholders from multiple sectors to assess our progress and press forward to achieving the Opening Doors goal of ending youth homelessness in 2020 with continued urgency.

A little over one year ago, many of us were in the same room talking about the importance of strengthening coordination across federal programs serving youth experiencing homelessness. For us federal folks, we knew we were making progress on the strategies embedded in the Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness. But we also knew we needed to do more, much more, to achieve our goal.

Our gathering last April definitely helped accelerate that progress — the launch this year of A Way Home America clearly shows the energy and passion partners are bringing to that effort. And last year’s event directly shaped the vision of the coordinated community response to youth homelessness that we and our federal partners released last fall. We’ve been using that vision to frame conversations and drive momentum among the federal agencies and in communities. The presentations and discussions we had a few weeks ago will inform and push us as we continue to support state and local efforts to implement coordinated responses to prevent and end youth homelessness.

As the young people of different backgrounds and experiences made crystal clear through their presentations, we can’t afford for the youth-serving systems we build to regard or treat any young person as beyond our reach or outside our responsibility. We must value and embrace the individual identities, expertise, strengths, and agency that every young person has, including, and especially, those who face the greatest challenges.

Our shared vision for a coordinated community response takes into account the breadth and scale of those challenges. It recognizes that our systems must be able to do several things well at the same time:

  • They must prevent entry into homelessness.
  • They must provide many different and tailored pathways out of homelessness.
  • And, they must be effective at helping every young person at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

We need to be able to prevent homelessness whenever possible, including for youth who will be aging out of the foster care or juvenile justice systems, and make sure that they have the skills and supports to successfully transition to independence.

We need to be able to find and engage every single young person experiencing homelessness, including those who may be hard to find and identify, and those who are being trafficked or are otherwise in harm’s way.

We need to be able to provide enough emergency housing interventions to make sure every young person can be safe immediately. But we also need to be able to provide an array of services and housing solutions that can support young people on efficient paths to permanency and stability.

We need to make sure that all young people, including LGBTQ youth and our most marginalized young people, feel safe and welcome and affirmed in every one of those housing and services environments.

We must tailor those solutions for every young person’s household and family — however they define family for themselves, and including young people who have children of their own. 

And across the entire system, we need to be routinely assessing the strengths and needs of young people to make sure we are recognizing their individuality and that we are helping them achieve their personal goals for stable housing, permanent connections, education or employment, and well-being.

Finally, we must also be able to define and describe — in a very tangible way — what success will look like in our communities. We need that vision to motivate and drive change, but also to analyze our progress, diagnose our weaknesses, and strengthen our actions.

So, what does it mean to end youth homelessness? How can we best use both qualitative information and quantitative data to define that end state? We have been giving these questions a lot of thought lately, so we asked participants at the policy briefing, including young people, to weigh in. We asked:

  • How will we know if a community has fully achieved the goal of ending youth homelessness?
  • What components or indicators should we consider to determine how well a community’s response to prevent and end homelessness is working? 

Armed with the feedback from our discussion — and other opportunities for stakeholders and young people to weigh in — we will be working to formalize and release the answers to those questions by the end of the year.

We are buoyed by the progress we have made over the past year, but it has still not taken us nearly far enough. With your help, we know we can build upon our shared momentum even further. Together, we will achieve our goal to prevent and end youth homelessness for all young people.

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