This paper examines the necessary elements of a comprehensive response to youth homelessness that is based on the expertise shared by nonprofit providers with years of experience serving unaccompanied minor youth. Through the Practice Knowledge Project, they identified the following as necessary elements of such a system for unaccompanied minor youth.
- Prevention. The structures that support minor youth – families, schools, caring adults, and communities – can be strengthened and assisted to prevent their homelessness. Child welfare also has an important role to play.
- Crisis and Early Intervention. Communities need enough shelter beds and services to ensure that no unaccompanied minor youth ever spends a night on the streets. Further, crisis programs must have the capacity to connect youth and families to mainstream resources in the community to meet their long-term needs, including those resources that will enable youth to meet their long-term education and employment goals.
- Longer Term Housing and Services. For youth who cannot immediately return home, communities must have a variety of safe, supportive, and developmentally responsive transitional housing options available to ensure that youth under 18 can begin to develop independent living skills, healthy and affirming social connections, and emotional wellbeing. These housing options must have low barriers to entry, and low tolerance for involuntary exits.
Finally, all aspects of an effective system to respond to the needs of runaway and homeless unaccompanied minor youth should be informed by a holistic framework that: employs positive youth development and harm reduction approaches in the least restrictive environment; is trauma-informed, culturally competent, responsive, and affirming; and helps youth develop education and employment plans and skills and focuses on healthy relationships with family, other caring adults, social peers, and communities.
This paper, part of a series, emerged from the National Alliance to End Homelessness Practice Knowledge Project. The Alliance, in partnership with Funders Together to End Homelessness and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and with the support of the Raikes Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust, periodically convened insightful and experienced practitioners with a goal of identifying those approaches most likely to succeed in reducing the number of homeless youth.