Conference Lessons: Building Supports for Homeless Youth

written by Sam Batko
March 4, 2014

As we move on from our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness, I’ve been reflecting on some of the presentations I saw while in New Orleans. Over the course of the next month, I and other Alliance staff will be discussing some of these presentations for our Conference Lessons series on our blog.

One of the workshops that I attended focused on building supports for youth that extend beyond the time they are in the program. Personally, I find this to be an especially important concept because youth move on from and age out of youth-targeted programs, sometimes quickly. And, helping a youth build a supportive network and long term stability so they don’t become homeless again is a key to any program serving this population. Two of the presentations from this workshop are available online and, for your convenience, we've also embedded them in this blog post.

The LA Gay and Lesbian Center discussed their employment initiatives in depth. Guided by the core principles that school attendance increases educational achievement and early work experience is key to long term employment success, the Center focuses on helping youth achieve those two components through engagement, motivation, and support. They provide GED prep classes, Microsoft training, and college exploration and enrollment support to improve the educational outcomes of their youth.

Their employment efforts have a variety of tools, including a speaker series, job placements, internships, and volunteer opportunities. All of these efforts are geared to achieving the goals of increasing career competency, helping youth learn the culture of work, building community supports for youth, and helping youth explore career opportunities. One of the most important aspects of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s education and employment work with youth is that they celebrate success in as big and public a way as possible.

Celebrating the achievements of the youth in their programs not only motivates those youth receiving recognition, but inspires other youth to work hard.

The second presentation from the workshop was from the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary and it focused on their Fusion Project, a project designed to help youth reconnect with family and their community to create a non-professional support network so that a youth can be successful beyond exiting the program. The Fusion project looks a lot like a family intervention program that would typically be geared toward getting a youth home with their family, but instead, this program doesn’t have that as an explicit end goal. One important philosophical shift with this program is that family is part of the solution even if a youth does not ultimately live with their family.

Overall, this workshop featured programs that are preparing youth for their lives beyond the homeless assistance programs. They help youth focus on building supportive networks in the communities in which they will live and they are especially conscious that their program will not be in a youth’s life forever and, most importantly, work to make sure the youth doesn’t need the program forever.