Why Every Community Should Apply for the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (even if they don’t intend to submit)

Written by guest blogger, Matthew Aronson. This is the first in a two-part series, exploring the upcoming Notice of Funding Availability for the FY 2017 Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program

As you may know, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will soon publish its Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the FY 2017 Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). It follows a first round published in August of 2016, and will support 11 communities, 5 of which will be rural, with $43 million and technical assistance to develop and implement coordinated community plans to prevent and end youth homelessness.[1] This is an exciting opportunity for communities big and small to confront a broad and often-hidden challenge that affects rural and urban youth alike.[2]

But applying for a federal grant is hard. HUD estimates that the application will take 25 hours.[3] Coordinating the required community partners may take even longer. What’s more, the competition is very high.

Many CoCs have used this rationale to explain to me that they shouldn’t apply. The challenge seems daunting, and they believe that their community isn’t good enough. “We don’t have enough youth experience.” “We don’t have the capacity right now.” “We don’t have the data.” “Hopefully, we will be ready next year.”

The truth is that everyone is ready to apply for the YHDP

When led the development of the first YHDP at HUD in early 2016, we used the NOFA to jump start efforts to end youth homelessness for every community that applied. Our team wanted applicants to use the seven rating factors–Leadership Capacity, Community Resources, Needs Assessment, Capacity for Innovation, Collaboration, Financial Resources, and Data and Evaluation Capacity–to answer the question, “do we have the necessary foundation in place to begin to plan,” and not “do we already have a plan that we’re ready to implement.” That’s why the NOFA includes a blueprint for creating and implementing a coordinated community plan.

Go, or Go Slow

I am an evangelist.  I believe that every community needs to use the guidance in the YHDP NOFA to create a coordinated community response. The YHDP NOFA won’t get you all the way there; communities will need additional resources and tactics to finish the job. But it is necessary. And that’s why CoCs only have two choices when it comes to preparing for the next YHDP: “Go” or “Go Slow.

“Go” means that a community has decided to mobilize local stakeholders to complete a competitive application and apply on time. Some believe that they already have strong responses to the seven rating factors. Others believe that they can develop strong responses within the 60 to 120 days that HUD typically holds competitions.

These communities may not have established youth homelessness systems–which HUD is not seeking. But they do have (or will create) the capacity, imagination, and funding necessary to engage in community-wide systems-change. They also believe that a short timeline will provide the energy needed to motivate their partners.  Most importantly, these communities understand that the process is worth it, even if they don’t win YHDP funding.

“Go Slow” means that a community will use the YHDP NOFA to guide their planning process, but will not move fast enough to meet the application deadline. They believe that submitting a competitive application would be difficult, and that the disruption caused by a 60 to 120-day sprint would outweigh the benefits.  They will still respond to each NOFA question, partner with their local child welfare agency, and develop a youth action board.  They will identify gaps and chart a path to fill in those gaps, and eventually develop a coordinated community plan.  They will simply do it more slowly.

If you think that you are ready for the challenge, go for it! If you worry that you are too far behind, go slow and take the time your community dynamics demand.  Starting the work is what’s most important for every CoC, and the YHDP NOFA contains the blueprint for getting it done.

Matthew Aronson is an independent consultant dedicated to helping communities end youth homelessness.  He formerly worked for HUD as the agency’s subject matter expert on youth homelessness, and led the development of the YHDP.  He is a returned peace corps volunteer, and has been a teacher, coach, direct service provider, and youth programs director. He lives with his wife in Cambridge MA.

[1] “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017,” Title II–Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Planning And Development, Homeless Assistance Grants. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/244/text

[2] Morton, M.H., Dworsky, A., Matjasko, J.L., Curry, S.R., Schlueter, D., Chávez, R. & Farrell, A.F. (in press). Prevalence and correlates of youth homelessness in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health.  http://voicesofyouthcount.org/

[3] 30-Day Notice of Proposed Information Collection: Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), 81 FR 94401 (December 23, 2016). https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/DownloadDocument?objectID=70799401