On Friday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined members of the City’s Youth Action Board to launch Rising to the Challenge: Ending Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in Boston, the City of Boston’s community planning process centered around preventing and ending homelessness among unaccompanied youth and young adults. The Youth Action Board is the City’s consumer advisory group of youth and young adults who have current or former experience with homelessness or housing instability.
“Whether it’s attendance and graduation rates, unemployment and the local economy, youth incarceration rates, or emergency room costs, the effects of youth and young adult homelessness are broad,” said Mayor Walsh. “I’m proud that our city is taking the critical first steps in ending youth homelessness. Each of the Youth Action Board members — and their peers — have important stories to tell us, and will contribute so much to the creation of this plan. There is a role for all of us to play in ending youth and young adult homelessness in Boston, and I look forward to working with everyone who has came together to reach this goal.”
Boston’s Way Home, the Walsh Administration’s plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness, highlighted unaccompanied youth and young adults as a priority population and identified the need for a comprehensive plan to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in Boston. Rising to the Challenge gathered community partners to launch the 4-month process of developing the first draft of this comprehensive plan.
In February 2018, the City selected Matthew Aronson and his team of consultants to build on the City’s work to end youth homelessness in Boston by researching and creating an action plan to support young individuals experiencing homelessness and put them on pathways towards stable housing. Aronson and his team facilitated Friday’s event, which was held at the Bolling Building in Roxbury with more than 150 people in attendance, including youth and young adults and community partners from City, State, and nonprofit agencies.
At Rising to the Challenge, Mr. Aronson’s team presented data they compiled in an attempt to estimate the size and scale of unaccompanied youth and young adult homelessness in Boston. In Boston, just like in most cities across the country, many youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are not sleeping in shelters or on the streets but are “doubled up” or couch surfing from one unstable situation to another. For this reason, it is challenging to estimate the full number of youth experiencing homelessness. An important part of this strategic plan will be to gather additional data about this group.
Boston’s annual Homeless Census shows that on a given night, 360 youth and young adults are either sleeping in Boston’s shelters or on the street. The City’s data also shows that the majority of these youth and young adults stay in shelter for a week or less.
In addition to gathering additional data on youth and young adult homelessness, the City’s plan will require a new understanding of the current system’s capacity; identifying the unmet needs of youth and young adults; and designing a plan to address gaps in Boston’s emergency assistance system that will end youth homelessness. The plan will be tied to concrete investments in housing and services necessary to end youth homelessness.
The plan will outline how to find resources for youth and young adults to access better permanent connections, education and employment, and improve their health and well-being. Creation of the plan will involve disparate stakeholders from across Boston, including law enforcement and adult and juvenile justice; healthcare providers; educators; the State’s child welfare system; landlords; school programs and private foundations.
Throughout the day, attendees broke into small groups to discuss the current state of youth and young adult homeless services and an ideal future system, as well as concrete steps to take for a successful planning process.
Youth and young adults are central in the planning process. The Boston Youth Action Board participates in all planning committees and and meets monthly with representatives from the Department of Neighborhood Development.
Prior to the launch of the community planning process, Aronson and his team focused on assisting the City in applying for the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, a grant that would provide an estimated $2-$3 million to the City of Boston to develop and implement its plan to end youth homelessness.
In January 2016, Mayor Walsh announced Boston had ended chronic veteran homelessness; to date, nearly 850 homeless veterans have been housed. In 2016, the City scaled up its efforts to end chronic homelessness; and since January of 2016, 425 chronically homeless individuals have been housed, representing more than 3,000 years of homelessness ended.