Each year, around 150,000 unaccompanied older youth experience homelessness. These youth have a broad range of needs but there is no comprehensive system to prevent their homelessness, provide supportive services, and ensure sufficient safe shelter and long-term housing options. Such a system is needed, and its structure can be informed by the practice knowledge of providers who have decades of experience working with youth. Practitioners with such expertise participating in the Practice Knowledge Project identified the following as essential elements of such a system.
- Supportive Relationships. Youth need help to develop and navigate supportive relationships with family, peers, and other caring adults. Short term and permanent connection should be nurtured.
- Housing and Services. Youth can succeed in a variety of housing models, some of which must be low barrier. Key to the success of housing programs is the availability of developmentally appropriate services. The best services are: voluntary, provided in a harm reduction framework, informed by youth, and structured to allow them to make mistakes.
- Connection to Mainstream Services. For long-term support, youth need to be connected to mainstream systems. To accomplish this, providers can advocate making the systems more responsive, help youth learn how to advocate on their own behalves, and support them as they engage with the systems.
- Quality Staff. Frontline staff needs to be well trained and well supported.
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.