Archive for November 19th, 2009
Last night, around 7 p.m., I found myself in a brightly painted community room surrounded by camera operators, photographers, and a bunch of boisterous, energetic young people (alarmingly nonplussed by the presence of all the media).
It was quite the motley crew.
I was at the Sasha Bruce House in Washington, D.C. The homeless youth shelter was playing host to legendary rap band Public Enemy, who – with the assistance of Virgin Mobile USA – was paying a visit to the shelter to raise awareness about youth homelessness.
The Alliance – as a leading authority on homelessness policy, trends, and research – was invited to attend and give a few remarks.
In preparation to attend this event, I tried to brush up on my facts. How many homeless youth are there? Who are they and where do they come from? How do they become homeless? What can we do about it? What are the best strategies to make sure that our youth remain safe and housed?
Turns out, there’s some discord about this particular topic in the homelessness field.
There’s a noticeable dearth of information about youth homelessness and upon giving it some more thought, it’s not hard to understand why. Some of the most accomplished advocates and researchers gathering data on homeless people will testify to its trying difficulty. Collecting data on homeless youth, then, is likely only harder, as youth are even less likely to seek out or be aware of social services available to them. Between that reality, and the fact that the definition of the term “youth” tends to vary widely by organization, the picture of youth homelessness is a bit fuzzy.
But here’s what we do know:
There approximately 50,000 street-dependent youth in the United States every year, and are up to two million youth experience an episode of homelessness during the course of a year.
Youth typically become homeless because of some kind of family disruption – divorce is one example, abuse is another. Youth also tend to become homeless after they exit state-run programs, namely the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Young people discharged from those programs rarely have access to a transitional program that provides them the skills and knowledge necessary to secure employment, find housing, and become productive members of society. As such, young people coming out of these programs often fall into homelessness.
While most youth who experience homelessness quickly return to family or friends, some do experience long-term homelessness. For those that do, street-dependent life presents great dangers. Homeless youth encounter a high incidence of violence, exploitation, and sexual assault while living on the streets.
Another something we know: there are things we can do. The Alliance advocates for three distinct tracts to prevent and end youth homelessness: 1) an increase in early intervention and family reunification services for homeless youth, 2) an expansion of long-term housing options consistent with young people’s developmental needs, and 3) after-care support to end homelessness for youth exiting foster care and correctional settings. These are strategies that show success in preventing and ending youth homelessness.
Surrounded by the cheerful, bright young residents of Sasha Bruce House, it’s easy to forget that they all somehow found themselves in a homeless youth shelter. Hopefully, with the help of private sector partners, the hard work of community leaders, and the energy of the young people themselves, we’ll find a way back home.
In recognition of Homeless Youth Awareness Month and the work of Virgin Mobile USA – the Alliance’s 2010 recipient of the Private Sector Achievement Award – a few words from Dan Schulman, CEO of Virgin Mobile USA.
All of us at Virgin Mobile USA are honored to accept the 2010 Private Sector Achievement Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, recognizing the strides that Virgin Mobile has made over the years to raise awareness for the issue of youth homelessness. The Re*Generation, established in 2006 with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s charitable arm, is Virgin Mobile’s initiative to address the issue of youth homelessness and empower a generation to help its own. http://www.virginmobileusa.com/regeneration.
Virgin Mobile has been a consistent voice in raising awareness of this issue by fundraising and implementing easy ways for the public to engage and show support since the launch of The Re*Generation. In June 2007, we worked with legislators from both the House and Senate to have Congress officially declare November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month with the support of singer-songwriter and former homeless youth, Jewel.
Over the past three years, Virgin Mobile has continued to expand its efforts in this area and, in light of the current economic situation in the U.S., we decided to make our annual Virgin Mobile Festival free this past summer. The energy surrounding FreeFest was inspiring and we expanded on this positive energy by announcing the Free I.P. program in which we asked people to volunteer in order to upgrade their FreeFest ticket to a V.I.P. ticket. Through this program, more than 30,000 hours of community service were donated by volunteers throughout the country, more than $80,000 was raised, 1,000 pairs of sneakers were donated, and 7,000 hygiene kits were produced for distribution to homeless youth organizations. The Free I.P. program was an acclaimed success and we hope to continue this program at future festivals and other events.
We have also provided the public with simple and direct ways to get involved in the movement to help homeless youth with our short code mobile campaigns Txt2Clothe and Txt2Donate. More than 200,000 items of clothing have been made available to homeless youth through our Txt2Clothe initiative and $35,000 through our Txt2Donate program. To date, Virgin Mobile has committed more than $3,000,000 of marketing and direct investment support to our charitable partners including $180,000 from Virgin Mobile Festival ticket sales.
To celebrate the three-year anniversary of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we hosted a special concert by Public Enemy on November 18th at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium with all ticket proceeds benefiting Sasha Bruce House, a non-profit shelter for homeless youth in Washington, D.C. Working in conjunction with the “One Warm Coat” initiative, led by Serve DC – The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, fans were encouraged to bring new or gently used coats to receive V.I.P. seat upgrades the night of the show. All coats collected were provided to the Sasha Bruce House.
We are very grateful to the Alliance for recognizing the work of Virgin Mobile, our dedicated staff and partners, and everyone who has helped to raise awareness for this issue along the way. This has been an incredible journey and one that still has many steps to accomplish. Virgin Mobile and Virgin Unite are passionate about moving closer toward the goal of ending youth homelessness in the United States. Our thanks go out to the Alliance for all you do and for your generous recognition of our work.