Youth

7th December
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Ann Marie Oliva, the Director of the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs (SNAPS) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the office that manages HUD’s homeless programs.

Since the implementation of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, we have made good progress in ending homelessness for veterans and the chronically homeless, and along the way have learned a lot about what works. As we move forward, we want to be sure that preventing and ending homelessness among unaccompanied youth is a priority at both the national and local levels. Getting better data on this population is the first step in making progress towards that goal.

In the past, HUD’s homeless assistance grants programs defined youth as persons less than 18 years old, and adults as persons 18 years of age and above. We realized, however, that this definition didn’t allow us to really understand how many young people are homeless and what their specific needs are.  HUD decided to change this definition – in part to align with other federal agencies’ definitions – in the implementation of the new Homelessness HEARTH Act programs.  The final rule on the Definition of Homeless, which took effect this past January, expands the definition of homelessness to include unaccompanied youth under 25 years old.   This will allow us to count the number of homeless youth more accurately, and to help them with the housing and services that match their needs.

In the upcoming January 2013 Point-In-Time count, HUD is expanding its data collection efforts to differentiate persons under the age of 18, those between 18 and 24, and persons over the age of 24.  This will be the first time that we are requiring communities to report to us on the number of homeless children in families, the number of unaccompanied youth, and the number of homeless transition-aged youth. It is an important step in making progress towards ending youth homelessness by 2020 – one of the four major goals of Opening Doors.

We need the help and focus of all of our grantees and partners to make that step a success.  Once we have this important data, the objectives and strategies outlined by the USICH to improve the educational outcomes of children experiencing homelessness and to prevent and end homelessness for unaccompanied youth – as described in their most recent amendment to Opening Doors – can be more fully implemented.  And that is the next step towards meeting the goal we all have – making sure no child is forced to live on our streets.

More information about the requirements for the 2013 Point-In-Time Count and about a new special initiative underway to improve counting and reporting on homeless youth can be found on our web site at www.hudhre.info.

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16th November
2012
written by naehblog

In recognition of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we at the Alliance are highlighting the issue of youth homelessness in our blog. For this blog entry, Jimmy Ramirez, a formerly homeless youth who went on  to become an advocate for homeless youth, shares his story.

My name is Jimmy Ramirez, and I’m from Oakley, California, a small town in the Bay Area just outside of San Francisco. I am currently a sophomore at Georgetown University, studying Government in hopes of pursuing a career in public service. I am a former homeless youth.

In 2010, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, my mother, sister, and I found ourselves without a place to stay after my mother lost her job and the bank foreclosed on our house, which left our family facing a seemingly insurmountable amount of financial and emotional stress.

As you might imagine, without a stable roof over my head, I was frequently absent from school. I lost interest in my academics and extra-curricular activities. This was uncommon for me, a student who had an A average for most of my academic career. During this period, faculty members at my high school and members of my community noticed changes in my behavior and attitude. They responded with understanding and inclusiveness.

For example, my school district’s McKinney-Vento liaison, Sarah Singrin,, provided my sister and me with important supplies like laundry detergent and toiletries. And one of my teachers, Fidel Garcia, took me into his home, and helped me pay for college application fees and SAT tests.

Looking back on my own experience, I realize now that I, like all homeless youth, had little control over the circumstances that led to my homelessness. There was no way I could magically prevent my mom from losing her job, or the bank from foreclosing on our house.

But at the time I refused to think of myself as “homeless.” That word applied only to the stereotype of the chronically homeless that I saw so often on TV and in the media, unkempt men sleeping on benches. But after a good deal of reflection I eventually came to terms with my situation. I may not have been sleeping on a bench, but I did not have a place to call home.

My struggle has made me stronger. Since that vulnerable time in my life I have felt a deep, personal desire to make a difference and work toward a day when no child has to endure what my sister and I did.

The love and support of my community, and the blessing of the people who believed in me, allowed me to graduate from high school as valedictorian and president of the student body. I applied to Georgetown University, my dream school, at the end of my senior year, and I was accepted on a full ride.

Now Georgetown University is my home. At Georgetown, where the Jesuit curriculum emphasizes values such as, “men and women for others,” I’m surrounded by brilliant individuals who care about the well-being of other people and strive to achieve social justice.

It was the example of these incredible people of Georgetown that inspired me to search for a summer internship that would do just that. That was how I found the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP), a statewide policy initiative of the California Research Bureau that addresses the social problem that has defined my life: youth homelessness. Its mission is to educate policymakers on issues that relate to the plight of youth experiencing homelessness.

As an intern, I was responsible for staying up to date on legislation related to youth homelessness, as well as maintaining the organization’s social media presence and writing blog posts. Every day I encountered statistics that frustrated me. The number of youth in this country experiencing homelessness is completely unacceptable.

Occasionally, I would come across inspirational stories about the impressive achievements of a homeless youth. One young man I read about was forced out of his home because of his sexual orientation, but, with the help and care of a community of individuals who connected him with resources, he went on to become valedictorian of his high school.

The reason that students like he and I were able to succeed and achieve stability in our lives is simple, and fundamental. Someone who cared found us and gave us the help we needed.

When it comes to the issue of youth homelessness, there is a lack of education and awareness among policymakers and the public, who know little about the sorts of issues that this vulnerable segment of the population struggles with.

Prior to this internship, my view of the future was pessimistic. I worried that we might never see an end to youth homelessness. This internship has shown me how complex the problem is, but it has also shown me that among the advocates, practitioners and policymakers there is a growing awareness and a sense of urgency.

With Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the inclusion of homeless youth in the Point-In-Time Counts this January, and the tireless work of countless homeless youth assistance providers across the country, we are taking steps in the right direction.

The CAHYP has given me hope and an opportunity to bring the voice of homeless youth to the policy table. I continue to consult with the  CAHYP, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to California’s first-ever statewide plan to End Youth Homelessn.

As we move forward, remember: only by working together can we end youth homelessness.

9th November
2012
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

Youth Point-In-Time Counts Q&A

The Alliance estimates that each year 1.7 million children have a runaway or homeless episode, with 400,000 remaining homeless longer than a week. This coming January, communities across the country are making a concerted effort to include youth in the biennial Point-In-Time Counts.

In recognition of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we at the Alliance are highlighting the issue of youth homelessness in our blog. For this blog entry, I asked the Alliance’s Director for Families and Youth, Sharon McDonald, and our Policy and Program Analyst on youth and child welfare, André C. Wade, some basic questions about youth homelessness and what we hope to accomplish with this January’s Point-In-Time Count.

How does homelessness affect youth, compared to how it affects adults? Are there some long-term effects for homeless youth?

We’re still learning most things, from a research standpoint. There’s the idea that the more often youth run away from home, the more susceptible they are to commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. During these core developmental years, the amount of trauma a youth experiences can impact their long-term well-being. So if we don’t get them out of homelessness and into safety soon, those experiences could have lasting implications. Moreover, this is a time when many young people are finishing school, so it could negatively impact their education, which could have lasting negative consequences for their skills, employability and income.

What about their mental health and the trauma of living on the street?

Well, trauma is trauma, no matter who’s being affected by it. But in your formative years, it impacts brain development, your emotional stability, your ability to connect and form relationships. It’s imperative that we decrease the episode of homelessness to decrease the impact of trauma on these young people.

We estimate that 1.7 million children have a runaway or homeless episode each year, with 400,000 remaining homeless longer than a week. But how accurate is that estimate?

Those statistics reflects the best information we have. The Department of Justice (DOJ) conducts the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-away Children (NISMART) and this is where the data comes from.  It is a bit dated and the DOJ is currently  conducting a new NISMART survey, but it will be a few years before a report is released.  However, NISMART doesn’t collect information about youth who have been away from home for longer than a year, and it only looks at youth under the age of 18, even though young adults age 18 and older are also vulnerable.

One of the benefits of a Point-In-Time Count is that it tells us how many youth are homeless in a given community.  While it’s important to know that across the country 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 experience homeless, it’s just as important for community leaders to know how many young people are homeless in their town and whether these young people are in shelters or are in unsafe, inappropriate locations. It’s also important for building the political will to end youth homelessness.

What should people know about the upcoming Point-In-Time Counts?

The administration has always required communities to count youth experiencing homelessness as part of the Point-In-Time Counts. This year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is requiring in its guidance that communities report separately on youth, ages 18 to 24, in addition to unaccompanied youth under age 18. In the past, youth in this age 18 to 24 age group have been lumped in with adults, ages 18 to 30. So now we’re going to be able to reach an estimate of how many youth in this age group are experiencing homelessness. So far, we haven’t been able to do that.

Why is there a new emphasis on this 18 to 24 age range?

Advances in the child and youth development field have shown that youth undergo significant developmental changes during this period of their lives. So just because you’re 18 and you’re an adult by law, that doesn’t mean that developmentally you’re an adult. Youth between the ages of 18 to 24 are transitioning into adulthood, and may have their own special needs. That’s why HUD is trying to make sure that communities count and report on homeless youth ages 18 to 24. You can’t solve a problem without knowing the scope of the problem. So that’s going to improve our data, which is what we use to determine the scale of the community’s need with regard to this population. We’ll be able to size and scale interventions and housing for youth homelessness with greater accuracy. That’s why HUD is asking communities to make a special effort to find unaccompanied youth on the night of the Point-In-Time Counts.

How do we count youth experiencing homelessness?

There are two basic ways we count homeless populations. We collect data from homeless service providers, places where people access services on the day or night of the count. The second, and more challenging way is a street count. It’s more challenging because you have to actually go where unsheltered, homeless people are. While sometimes they’re very visible, on park benches, subway stations and the like, often they’re invisible, either by intention or by accident. They may sleep in alleys, abandoned buildings, woods, garages, or cars. To do a good street count, you have to know where to look.

What sorts of characteristics of  homeless youth make it hard for communities to count them?

Youth homeless assistance providers report that youth on the streets aren’t easily identified through typical counts of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness. That’s largely because these youth congregate in different areas at different times. When it comes to homeless youth, they don’t want to hang out at the same place as people who are in an older age range. Also, they may be less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness  or they may not even identify as homeless. They may also work harder to try to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless, so it may be hard to distinguish them from other youth who aren’t homeless.

What are we doing differently this time around to make sure youth are more accurately represented in the counts?

Communities are partnering with youth homeless assistance providers and other individuals who are knowledgeable about homeless youth. This might include police, teachers, and other young adults who are experiencing homelessness or have in the past. These individuals can help identify “hot spots,” which are places where youth congregate, and identify times when youth can be found there. This kind of partnership is innovative and has been rare, but it’s crucial because, typically, adult homeless assistance providers are unaware of these hot spots. Youth providers know about street outreach and are aware of these hot spots, but haven’t necessarily been participating in their communities’ Point-In-Time Counts.

What are some of the most effective strategies or techniques?

It’s all about figuring out the best time of day and the location of these hot spots and encouraging youth involvement in the counts. There are communities who have been doing youth counts, historically, that we can learn from, and we have a pretty good sense of what techniques work. As an example, instead of counting youth at night, when they tend to be harder to find, some communities may want to count them between 3 and 7 p.m. Also, youth involvement is really important. Youth volunteers should be involved in peer recruitment to create a snowball effect; one volunteer talks to his friend, who talks to his friend, who talks to her friend, and so on. You need that snowball sampling component in order to reach them.

How often are homeless youth prepared and willing to help with the PIT Counts?

It may be challenging. They certainly have more pressing concerns, including meeting their basic needs and finding a safe place to stay. In addition, many homeless youth have suffered abuse and have run away from home and so aren’t always trusting of authority or adults. But we do know that communities are already successfully recruiting youth to help them plan for the PIT Counts. We can learn from them.

Historically, have youth homeless assistance providers worked with communities on Point-In-Time Counts?

Not necessarily. The involvement of youth providers has varied from community to community. Youth providers typically don’t work with the larger homeless service system. They often have different funding streams and serve different subpopulations of the overall homeless population. While HUD has always required that homeless youth be counted, communities haven’t always focused their attention on finding homeless youth being served outside of the adult system; and youth service providers weren’t always at the table during the planning for the counts.

This is the first time that youth homeless assistance providers are working with communities. Why is that happening?

We all recognize that homeless youth are undercounted in PIT Counts, and this has undermined communities’ ability to respond to youths’ needs, in addition it leads to an insufficient response by the federal government. This is all about improving our data, so we can improve our ability to end youth homelessness.

Are the PIT Counts changing in any way that will give us the scope of the problem of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness?

So, when you do the count, it’s usually just a headcount. You don’t really ask them their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re encouraging communities to ask about sexual orientation or gender identity if they’re doing a survey, just to get better numbers, but that’s not exactly the best way to get the data. A homeless youth might not want to answer and could easily choose not to answer. But still, it might give us a sense of things.

Will getting a more accurate count result in more federal funding for youth services?

It might compel local communities and congress to invest more resources to assist homeless youth once we know the scale of the need. It might also compel communities to target more of their resources to interventions that meet the needs of specific subsets, such as the 18 to 24 age range. HUD has always provided funding that providers have used to serve homeless youth. However, these services may not have been provided by practitioners with an expertise in youth development. Right now many of these youth are primarily being served by adult programs that don’t meet their full range of needs or take into account where they are developmentally. A better sense of the scale of homeless youth may result in increased investment in youth-specific interventions.

What’s the Alliance doing right now?

We’re encouraging every community to commit to doing the best possible count of homeless youth. So, we’re educating the field about the importance of counting youth and the best methodologies to use.  We are stressing the importance of certain steps communities can in planning take such as n developing  key partnerships to  make sure they’re on board, and how to use the data. We’re also making sure communities have the resources to do accurate counts.

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15th October
2012
written by naehblog

The Alliance is excited to announce the website for the 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness is now live, and registration is open!

The conference will take place this February at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel in Seattle, Wash., where 800 to 900 attendees are expected to convene to share and learn about the latest tools and the most effective solutions going in the homeless assistance field today. We are in the midst of the planning process, and working hard to make sure you get the most out of the experience.

Although the conference website is always being updated, you can always find important details about the conference, including the conference agenda, registration rates, hotel information, travel information, as well as important information about scholarship and volunteer opportunities. We will be posting more information as it becomes available.

We encourage you register early to take advantage of the early rate for substantial savings. The deadline for early registration is 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Dec. 17. If you are registering by mail, your form must be postmarked on or before Monday, December 17.

For organizations sending three or more individuals to the conference, the early registration cost for the first two registrants to attend the conference is $425 per person. For each additional individual, the fee is $375.

For more information about deadlines and fees for other registration rates, please see the conference website registration rates page. You can also keep up with Alliance news on our blog, on our Facebook page, on Twitter and in our newsletter, where we will be posting updates and reminders as these dates approach.

We hope to see you in Seattle this February!

10th October
2012
written by Andre Wade

Last week the Alliance and co-sponsors held a webinar on counting youth experiencing homelessness during the HUD mandated point-in-time counts that will be held in January 2013.

The webinar explored what three communities — San Jose, D.C., and southern Nevada — have done to effectively count youth experiencing homelessness. We had a fantastic turnout and received great feedback.

The Alliance would like to thank our partners who contributed to the webinar: the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes (JBF), National Network for Youth (NN4Y), and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA).

To build on this momentum, the Alliance is producing yet another webinar (with co-sponsors the NN4Y and DCAYA) titled “Youth Targeted Point-In-Time Counts: What You Need to Know!”  This time the webinar will feature Peter Connery of Applied Survey Research and will focus on:

  • Developing Key Partnerships;
  • Planning;
  • Safety and Privacy Concerns;
  • Recruiting Volunteers;
  • Deployment of Teams to Conduct the Counts;
  • The Survey Process;
  • Rural Communities; and
  • Take Aways.

Per usual, we will have time for a robust Q&A session to answer as many questions as possible.

Please join us on Thursday, October 18, at 1:30 P.M. EST by registering for this important webinar.

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9th October
2012
written by Andre Wade

The following article originally appeared in the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program Newsletter, October 1, 2012.

Although current data on the extent of youth homelessness are limited, previous studies have estimated that approximately 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 have run away or are homeless in the United States each year. Several factors contribute to young people leaving home. One of the primary factors is intense family conflict, which can take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or non-acceptance of a youth’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

When young people are out of the home unaccompanied and trying to navigate life on the streets, they become susceptible to many horrors, including commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking. Estimates are that some 2.2 percent of children under the age of 18 who have a runaway or homeless episode — approximately 39,000 children annually — are sexually assaulted or become victims of CSE.

The relationship between youth homelessness and CSE and/or trafficking arguably begins as soon as a youth leaves home. The Dallas Police Department has found that the more times a youth runs away from home, the more likely that youth is to be victimized. Unaccompanied youth living on the street are particularly vulnerable to such victimization because they are not in a position to meet their immediate needs for food, shelter and safety. This makes them a target for people who may exploit them. A study of shelter and street youth indicated that approximately 28 percent of street youth and 10 percent of youth in shelters reported trading sex (called survival sex) to meet their basic needs.

Oftentimes the discussion about sexual exploitation among homeless youth overlooks males, who are also at risk for CSE. Many of those who are exploited and recruited for trafficking self-identify as gay or bisexual. Although the dynamics of providing services and shelter to young men is different (including the response by the justice system), more gender inclusive policies must be developed to effectively house, treat and protect male survivors. Nationally, fewer than 100 beds are designed specifically to meet the needs of survivors of exploitation.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness believes that minimizing the time youth and young adults are homeless can reduce their risk of sexual exploitation. Communities can implement a number of strategies to achieve this goal. First, we can ensure that youth exiting the foster care and/or juvenile justice system are not discharged into homelessness. Thoughtful strategic planning can prevent that outcome. Second, we must improve our crisis response to runaway youth and youth on the street to help move them quickly into safety and out of harm’s way. Third, we can implement family intervention strategies that will help prevent youth from running away in the first place and help those who have run away to return home when it is safe to do so. Finally, we must increase investments in housing for youth who are unable to return home. All of our programs and services need to recognize the special needs of survivors of CSE and trafficking.

25th September
2012
written by Andre Wade

This January communities will feverishly conduct Point-in-Time counts of people experiencing homelessness. And guess what – for the first time youth ages 18-24 will be included as a specific population that will be counted and reported to HUD. This means that Continuum of Cares (CoCs) will need to develop key partnerships with youth providers and youth stakeholders to ensure a successful count. This also means that communities will need to know what methodologies have been proven to work. So, to help communities with the planning process, the Alliance is co-hosting a webinar titled, “It’s a Data Driven World: Making the Most of the 2013 Youth Inclusive PIT Count.”

The webinar will highlight three communities (San Jose, So. Nevada, and D.C.) that have successfully performed targeted youth counts.  The webinar will discuss:

  • How to partner with Continuum of Care (CoC) bodies to ensure a successful count;
  • Concrete strategies for Coc’s regarding promising practices, methodologies, and lessons learned;
  • How to incorporate these strategies into the youth inclusive Point in Time count in 2013;
  • Guidance on how to incorporate school data into point-in-time counts; and
  • Effective strategies for counting youth in rural communities.

Please join us on Thursday, October 4, at 1:30 P.M. EST by registering for this important webinar.

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17th September
2012
written by Andre Wade

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released an amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The amendment, which USICH officials developed with its federal partners, addresses the education needs of children experiencing homelessness and provides strategies to solve the problem of homelessness amongst youth.

The amendment, which calls for data, more research, more resources, systems-level thinking, and true collaborations across systems and disciplines, adds depth and context to the administration’s current thinking on what’s needed to address these issues.

This new perspective comes from two models included in the amendment, one that outlines a new strategy for obtaining more accurate data on youth, and another, which shows the administration’s framework for ending youth homelessness, which was released in conjunction with USICH’s June 2012 council meeting.

The new amendment:

  • Adds robust language on obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of youth homelessness;
  • Outlines new strategies for increasing access to education for unaccompanied youth and improving their educational outcomes;
  • Adds a new emphasis on increasing access for unaccompanied youth to early childhood education programs;
  • Adds a new focus on awareness among practitioners of the importance of child and youth development;
  • Outlines new strategies to support healthy child and youth development within housing programs;and
  • Adds a new focus on advancing the health and housing stability for youth experiencing homelessness and youth exiting the foster care and juvenile justice systems.

We still have a lot of work to do if we are to end youth homelessness by 2020. However, this amendment speaks to the administration’s overall commitment to children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Now it’s time for us to determine what housing models and support services are the most effective for youth who are unable to return home or be reconnected with their families through family intervention.

We need to improve the crisis response mechanism for getting youth off of the street and connected to services. And lastly, we need to size these resources and bring them to scale for universal implementation – before 2020.

13th September
2012
written by Sharon McDonald

Yesterday the U.S. Census released data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2011. By now you’ve seen the headlines:  the poverty rate has leveled off at 15 percent after three years of increasing and remains at the highest level since 1993, while median income has declined by 1.5 percent, which means that the middle class continues to feel the strain of the bad economy.  More people are covered by health insurance (1.4 million more than in 2010), which is certainly welcome news, since the number of people with health insurance has been going down for the last 10 years. But while poverty has leveled off, it remains at historically high levels, and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. We could be doing a lot more.

  • 16.1 million children in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2011—that’s more than one in five children.
  • Young children in families headed by a single mother were hardest hit: 57.6 percent of children under the age of 6 in families headed by a single mother live in poverty.
  • Over 7 million children live in deep poverty, subsisting on less than $1,000 a month for a family of four ($11,511 annually) – that’s 9.8 percent of all children in the U.S.
  • And deep poverty is much more prevalent among very young children, with 11.8 percent of all children under the age of 6 living in families with incomes below half the poverty level.

We know social benefits can help lift people out of poverty.  One example is Social Security benefits.  Social Security benefits have lifted 14.5 million adults age 65 and older out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduced poverty for 3 million children, even though they’re still included in the 16 million children living in poverty reported in the Census poverty data since it excludes income from the EITC. That’s a start (a good one).

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could do more. The program provides states with resources to support low-income families so children can be cared for in their own homes and helps parents connect to employment.  How well is it working? Not as well as it could be. States choose how they use TANF resources and sets benefit levels, which are currently insufficient to lift most families without other sources of income out of deep poverty, never mind out of poverty altogether.

States could do more. States could increase TANF benefit levels and allow families on TANF who are employed to keep more of their earnings.  Many families living in poverty are not accessing TANF benefits at all, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States could reduce the number of families without income from work or TANF benefits by helping families enroll quickly on TANF and meet program requirements.

States could also do more to help people on TANF connect to employment.  States predominately rely on a narrow set of tools to help people on TANF prepare for, and enter, the workforce.  For too many families, particularly in an economy with high unemployment, these tools simply aren’t enough.

But there’s been some progress on this front. In July, the Administration released an Information Memorandum inviting states to submit applications for waivers. Under these waivers, states can test new strategies to increase the number of families on TANF who transition to employment.  This is an opportunity for states to improve how they use welfare resources to help reduce the number of children living in deep poverty.

And that’s a big step in the right direction, because perhaps the most effective strategy to lift children out of poverty is to help their parents find employment.

6th September
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Maddison Bruer, who has been providing periodic updates in our blog this summer  on her work with Bridges of Norman.

With the end of August comes the end to summer vacations for students across the country. My summer vacation is no different. As I write this blog post I am sitting in my Research Methods class at The George Washington University.

I can say with a good degree of certainty that my months away from academia were unique. As most of you know, I worked at a youth homeless shelter in Oklahoma that I once called home. Formerly named “Independent Living Services for Youth,” Bridges has become an innovative program that sets education above all else. For the many young adults living on the streets or couch-surfing, Bridges was more than a homeless shelter, it was an education program, a support system, and a family that many had never had before. Bridges was all these things to me and so much more.

Bridges is a part my story, and part of the reason I am living my dream of higher education. Thus, when I won GW’s Shapiro Public Service Award, which gave me the chance to study Bridges’ programs from ‘the other side’ I was ecstatic, and even more so when I learned I could share my thoughts with the Alliance’s community.

Over the summer, I learned more about how a nonprofit works and also, most importantly, how others perceive homelessness. So many negative thoughts and conceptions are associated with the word ‘homeless.’

During my stay in Oklahoma, I was able to fight these and the ignorance surrounding homelessness and, in particular, youth homelessness. If I were to describe all that I learned during this research adventure, I feel as though I would have to write a book. My hope is that those of you who have kept up with my posts are left feeling like you learned something about the Bridges program, and perhaps even me.

Coming back to DC always reignites a sense of community in me. By community I mean that I feel so connected to the rest of the world, and I feel as though I can make a difference in areas that matter to me. Seeing Bridges and its workings this summer makes me want to continue to educate people on homelessness and strive to rid them of their misconceptions.

I am incredibly thankful to have been given the chance to be heard, and record my findings here on The National Alliance to End Homelessness blog. For those of you who are students, good luck with your academics, but for those of you that are in the working world, keep on chuggin’!

PS.  Always remember to vote!

Maddison Bruer

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