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    Changing the Conversation

    Ayala Livny

    Ayala Livny
    Ayala Livny has worked in homeless services with men, families, children, and young adults to improve health outcomes and navigate systems since 1995. She spent eleven years as the Program Manager at Youth on Fire, a drop-in center for homeless youth and young adults ages 14-24 in Cambridge, MA and now trains for the Center for Social Innovation. Her focus has been on creating safe and welcoming spaces that incorporate Harm Reduction, HIV prevention, trauma-informed care, and positive youth development practices.

    Recent Posts

    Helping Children Respond to Homelessness

    My kids have known about homelessness since the moment they knew about things. They are currently 5 and 8 years old and were gestated, born, and grew up while I was running a drop-in center for homeless young adults. In addition to constantly hearing about my work and people with whom I worked, they came to picnics, holiday parties, talent shows, and many other community events connected to the drop-in center.

    They knew by name some of the young adults who lived or panhandled on the streets of Harvard Square. They made pictures for my clients who moved into housing “so they have something pretty on the wall." Their room is decorated with artwork created by homeless young adults; they say “I hope I can be that good at art one day.” One rainy and cold fall morning, my oldest – who was 6 at the time – looked at me over breakfast and said “Rain, rain, go away. Mama’s friends have nowhere to stay.” My children are aware of homelessness, poverty, and injustice – understanding this is part of understanding their mother.

    Preventing HIV: Being More Comfortable Talking about Sex

    “You’re going to need to do some homework,” she said.

    It was my first week of working at Youth on Fire (YOF), a drop in center and HIV prevention program for 14-24 year olds experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

    “Okay,” I replied, expecting to be given some books or articles to read.

    “I want you to go home, stand in front of a mirror, and say the words ‘blow job’ and ‘anal sex’ thirty times per day for the next week.”

    4 Things I Wish I Knew as a Supervisor

    When I was first invited to apply for the manager position of the drop-in center where I worked as a case manager, I turned it down. I enjoyed being a case manager and working directly with clients, and I didn’t want the responsibility of running a program, writing reports, and going to meetings.

    Instead, I participated in the search for a new Program Manager. Most of the candidates were not well qualified for this position, but we eventually found someone who seemed good and made him an offer. He accepted. And then he didn’t show up for his first day of work. 

    Whose Voices Do We Value? Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency

    This post is second in a series of stories from youth about their experiences of homelessness and resiliency. Thank you to each of the authors who have so generously shared personal details of their lives for the benefit of others. We are inspired by their courage and hopes for the future. We must learn from their stories and partner with them to implement effective, meaningful solutions.

    I was recently invited to moderate a panel on homelessness. When I asked who would be on the panel, the organizer listed a number of prominent names in the field. I spent a moment feeling impressed and excited about the possibility of rubbing elbows with these individuals…and then I asked if there were any people on the panel who had experienced homelessness.

    Dealing with Frustration & Heartbreak while Supporting Clients

    This is a poem I come back to over and over again. I found it years ago, and every time I look at it, it seems to resonate in new ways.

    After some days of supporting clients, it’s the “immense responsibility and very little authority” that catches me. After other days, it’s about “resounding triumphs and devastating failures.” And still other days, it’s about “always be[ing] frustrated.”

    My frustration is sometimes directed at the systems. Why are they so complicated? Why do they set people up to fail? Why don’t they support people the way they should?

    Sometimes, quite honestly, my frustration is directed at the people with whom I am working. Why did she go back to her abusive partner? Why did he spend his $10,000 settlement in a month? Why did he pay his phone bill, but not his rent? Why did she use again?

    Homeless Youth Speak Out: 8 Tips for Service Providers

    I recently developed a training for future homeless shelter staff with members of Y2Y Harvard Square's Young Adult Advisory Council. After discussing past mistakes service providers have made in interacting with them, we put their words of wisdom and advice on paper. Our goal was to catalyze productive conversations between service providers and users.

    Riding the Legislative Roller Coaster: Funding for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

    Securing legislative funding to address homelessness can feel like a roller coaster. In Massachusetts, provider and peer activists have spent the last five years fighting for resources for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, with ups and downs along the way.

    Seven Things Homeless Youth Taught Me about Working with Homeless Youth

    My journey working with homeless young adults began eleven years ago. I interviewed for a case manager position at Youth on Fire (YOF), a daytime drop-in center for homeless young adults ages 14-24 in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. I had just moved from the Midwest, and remember saying to YOF’s youth hiring committee, “I don’t know the resources around here yet, but I can promise that if you let me into your lives, I will be the biggest cheerleader you’ve ever had.” They did let me into their lives, and over the next eleven years, they taught me not simply to cheer for them, but how to support them as they navigated through the world. Below are some of the most important lessons I learned in over a decade of sharing laughter and tears, tragedy and triumph, and despair and hope with an incredible community of young people.

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