More about Pacific House's new initiative to address
the growing problem of young-adult homelessness
From the desk of Andrew Barer, Development Director of the Pacific House
Over the last couple of years we have increasingly become aware of an emergency situation: There are far more homeless young adults (“late stage” teenagers, between the ages of 18 through 24 years old) in our community – an estimated 400 to 600 right here in Lower Fairfield County alone – than was ever recognized. Young people for whom, at age 18, support services have largely disappeared and who now, at this critical stage of their lives, find themselves with nowhere to turn.
Homeless young adults represent some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community, a group that truly has no other resources to rely upon and no place to turn when they are in crisis and become homeless.
We resolved that we had to respond immediately and decided upon a two-phased approach. Phase I would involve making our best effort to provide living accommodations and services at the Pacific House emergency shelter (immediate) and phase II would involve converting a building we already own into a group home.
We hired a case manager with extensive experience working with the homeless young adult population and we retrofitted a room at the shelter as a living space for our young adult clients (with bathroom facilities and 12 beds). We then launched several new specialized programs and services. In just three weeks all of the beds were full. We did nothing to promote the program – our young clients came to us strictly as a function of “word of mouth” as word spread of an alternative to couch surfing, or living on the streets or in abandoned cars, etc.
See a brief 3-mnute video about the Pacific House Young Adult Program here: https://vimeo.com/225165648
What we have learned:
The program has been in “official operation” for about 12 months. During this time we have learned several things that we believe are quite significant:
The need is tremendous. We have been inundated with young people who are in great need and have nowhere else to turn.
While a men’s shelter is certainly not an ideal place to intervene with this population, by setting aside a dedicated living space, hiring appropriate staff, forming some critical community partnerships, and initiating some well targeted services – we have been able to generate some positive results:
While we are encouraged by some of the results generated to-date, as mentioned earlier, a men’s emergency homeless shelter is far from an ideal place to run a program for homeless young adults. From the start, there are many young adults who will simply not approach any program that is housed in a “men’s homeless shelter.” Further, there are rules and regulations that must be adhered to in order to properly run a men’s emergency shelter that, by their nature, limit the range of activities that would optimally be executed in order to generate the best possible results with a young adult population.
We are convinced that the critical next step is to develop non-shelter based supported housing options, designed specifically for the needs of young adults. To this end, we are developing a group home facility in a building we own in Norwalk. This facility will offer 12 to 14 young adults support and housing, for flexible time periods, as they work to establish self-sufficiency, complete education, explore career paths, and ultimately become self-sufficient.
State and federal funds will be used to rehab this property. The funding obtained via this grant will help provide the support services needed to help ensure successful client outcomes.
For homeless young adults, prompt access to housing would allow dedicated support personnel to quickly address barriers to success like medical and mental health needs, insufficient financial resources, life skills, etc. As this housing would be “time flexible,” stays could be extended on an “as needed” basis to insure that occupants have sufficient time to pursue health, educational and employment goals. For example, “Flex Housing” will accommodate the young adult who needs a place to live for 6 months while he “lands, Stabilizes, and moves on,” as well as the one who needs a place to live while he attends two years at a Community College, and then 6 months while he finds a job and saves some money, etc.
We believe that this type of “flex housing,” together with the professional supports provided, would provide an effective way to reduce failure rates (recidivism) for inexperienced young adults transitioning from homelessness to housing stability and self-sufficiency.
The facility noted above would include features designed to make each young adult’s experience as robust as possible (i.e. room for group meetings, computer lab for studies, gym for physical wellbeing etc.). The same can be said for the staff. The facility will be staffed 24/7 by RSA’s (Residential Service Advocates) to insure the safety and wellbeing of all clients. The facility will also have an assigned Case Manager, with experience and expertise working with this specific clientele.
Case Manages will develop and implement service plans specific for each young adult’s needs that engage program participants in the social, vocational and educational activities they need. In addition, our staff will partner with other local agencies to help insure that our young adult clients receive needed physical and mental health care, recovery services, assistance dealing with the justice system, etc.
The program design will prioritize ensuring that each Young Adult client will receive proper health care (physical and emotional), educational services/training, and preparation/support for employment. A critical goal will be to help each client achieve the socialization support needed for a successful and sustained transition to independent living.
The goal of this initiative is to help young adults avoid any extended period of homelessness and the various forms of physical, psychological and emotional damage that all too often come with it. To this end we will help homeless youth obtain housing stability as quickly as possible and reduce exposure to the risks of life on the street while connecting them as quickly as possible to services and resources that will build capacities to cope and develop as independent healthy adults following periods of homelessness.
We define success in terms of access to a safe and secure living environment without the potential risks for abuse and social stigma that exist for the homeless. Success may take the form of reuniting with family or extended family, placement in supported housing or acquisition of independent community housing. We also view success in terms of the continuation of age appropriate activities that foster health and healthy development, i.e. school, employment, social networks etc.
Our measures of success will be the extent to which the proposed program reduces time spent in shelters, achieves a quick positive exit from the shelter (i.e. one leading to safe housing) and succeeds in connecting the young adult with critical capacity building programs and services – like a return to school.
The long term goal is self-sufficiency and a successful continuation of the developmental process into adulthood that avoids a possible lifetime of reliance on homeless services while allowing each young adult to explore his true capabilities as fully as possible.
Pacific House is grateful to The Darien House Tour: Homes with Heart for their support of this important initiative.