The Importance of Partnerships in Ending Youth Homelessness

Written by Rebecca Jones Gaston, Commissioner Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Every young person deserves the dignity and security of stable housing, and this is especially true for youth and young adults formerly in foster care. No young person should transition out of foster care without a plan for housing and the support and services to maintain housing. As the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, which houses the Children’s Bureau and the Family Youth Services Bureau, I know the importance of partnering with communities to address the barriers, challenges, and systemic issues leading to such high rates of homelessness among youth exiting foster care. I have a long history of working to improve youth and family-serving systems, particularly in child welfare, so I understand that to be successful in this work we must develop and support intentional cross-system collaborations at every level of government and in communities, centering young people as the experts, and providing connections to resources they need to succeed and thrive.

Foster Care Exits and Housing Instability

Approximately 20,000 youth exit foster care annually, typically between the ages of 18 and 21. Many more experience the foster care system before the age of 18 and will need services and support to help in their transition. These young people face greater obstacles to accessing and maintaining housing, and as a result, experience higher rates of homelessness and housing instability compared to the general population. Additionally, young people may exit foster care into a stable setting, but then later experience homelessness or housing instability with few supports and resources to resolve on their own.

In response to the disproportionate numbers of young adults formerly in foster care who later experienced homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took the recommendations of young people with lived experience and formally established the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Program in 2019. The FYI Program is a dedicated resource that provides rental assistance and supportive services to young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who have left foster care or are transitioning out of foster care and who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This program provides an important opportunity for communities across the country to build upon efforts to prevent and end homelessness among youth and young adults with a current or prior history of child welfare involvement and reduce the disparate outcomes for young adults of color and LGBTQIA2S+ young adults.

Removing Barriers to Housing Access

For FYI programs to truly meet the needs of eligible young people, we must coordinate across sectors and programs to ensure youth have access to the four walls and a roof the voucher provides and the supportive service and community connections necessary for long-term stability. In addition to facing the same issues as adults related to affordability and availability of housing, young people who have experienced the foster care system often face additional barriers to accessing resources and services that are essential when seeking housing. These barriers can include reduced access to social or financial support to assist with move-in costs, landlords unwilling to rent to young people with no credit history, and staffing shortages across human services and behavioral health fields.

Serving Youth Effectively

Implementation of young adult voucher programs requires a community approach, utilizing federal, state, and local resources best positioned to meet the expressed needs of young people. Youth-serving programs, like the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) grant recipients, provide programs that are trauma-informed and centered on young adults. They provide comprehensive services focused on building relationships and trust, making these programs uniquely positioned to identify and connect with young adults who may be eligible for resources but are not currently utilizing them. While public child welfare agencies must be the ones to refer youth to housing authorities, achieving stability requires meaningful connections to care and services which will require a consortium of programs and sectors working together to ensure youth have the support and resources they need to fully utilize an FYI voucher. In coordination with HUD, we released new guidance to RHY grant recipients to ensure eligible youth gain access to this valuable and life-saving resource. Through joint efforts like these, we hope communities are better able to serve young people with the full scope of programs and funding available.

Young people continue to name safe and stable housing as a top priority and necessity that enables them to move forward in their lives, and it is our job to ensure they have what they need to pursue that. We must listen to them. Youth and young adults and the agencies that support them must be equipped with the resources, opportunities, and connections to allow them to pursue their goals and dreams. Communities knowing about and fully utilizing important resources like FYI are vital in our ability to respond to the needs of young people facing housing instability and the support and services needed to be successful.