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    Changing the Conversation

    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.

    Racism and Youth Homelessness

    This post is taken from a transcript of comments by Jeff Olivet [JO] and Marc Dones [MD] at the White House Policy Briefing on Ending Youth Homelessness on June 3, 2016 sponsored by The White House, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and True Colors Fund.

    [JO]: We have a problem. It is a problem that rarely gets named. We talk about health disparities. We talk about cultural competence. We talk about disproportionality. We sugarcoat the language and speak in euphemisms.

    What we do not say often enough or loudly enough is that racism and homelessness are inextricably linked. Yes, racism. It is time to speak truth. It is time to call it what it is.

    Ending Houselessness is not Ending Homelessness

    End Homelessness

    I recently came across a well-researched online article on homelessness in the United States, and the potential for us to end this problem – if we just had a little more political will to fully fund the housing subsidies needed to sweep the streets clean of the chronically homeless population.

    While I am generally pleased to see any journalistic attention paid to this daunting and commonly ignored social blight, I worry about the incompleteness of the conversation.

    First, who are we talking about?

    Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: M

     When I go to a shelter, I don’t get any sleep. Sometimes it's because people wake up at 4:30 am and scream at the top of their lungs. Sometimes it’s because people are up watching TV and walking around. 

    But mostly, it's because the shelter is not a safe place. The first time I went to a shelter, I was 18 years old. I thought my life was over, and that I would have no social life. As a gay male, I was immediately harassed. I went to sleep every night just wishing that it would be over and wondering why I didn’t have my own place or at least some privacy.

    Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: Max


    That’s the sign I used to fly when I was homeless.

    It served a double meaning for me. One meaning was to get the attention of anyone who just walked past without even looking at me or acknowledging me – like I was a piece of trash. You could see people thinking that every homeless person is the same, thinking that we all have the same story, that we all wind up on the street for the same reason. They couldn’t be more wrong.

    Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: Kay

    In January 2014, I was 19 and in a hospital. When the staff decided I was ready to leave, I met with a social worker who gave me the phone numbers of shelters. She did her best.

    I walked out of the hospital and onto the street. Soon after I left, I went to a pay phone and called some of the numbers. I was hoping someone would help me figure out where I could sleep that night. But, no one answered the phone. I stood at the pay phone feeling embarrassed and hopeless. I’m not the type to ask for money or other necessities. I wandered around Cambridge, hoping that something would happen.

    Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: Lauren

    During the holiday season last year, my son and I were staying in a small church-run shelter. From 8:30 am to 5 pm, I had to leave to sit in an old church basement adjacent to the shelter’s office

    It was a big room with some tables and chairs scattered around and a corner with some kids toys and a couch. The room was cold and dusty, and there was mouse poop behind the radiators. It smelled the way you would imagine an old church basement would smell. My son was just learning to walk and would often crawl across the floor, leaving his hands and knees dirty. 

    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.

    Moving Upstream with Substance Use Prevention: What Works?

    After many years working on substance use recovery issues, my work has shifted to substance use prevention and early intervention. With a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a team at the Center for Social Innovation is developing and testing Project Amp, a substance use prevention model. Project Amp seeks to delay or prevent substance use among teenagers by enhancing protective factors through brief mentorship with a young adult in recovery.

    This innovative program applies recovery assets within a prevention framework; explores the effect that brief peer-based relationships have on behavior change; and enhances an integrated health care approach: Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).

    Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: Andrew

    This post is first 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.

    When I was 21, I was living in a group home run by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in the South End of Boston. I had been living there for a few years and was growing more and more frustrated with my situation. I didn’t have a lot of freedom to have friends and to do stuff that I felt other 21 year olds were doing. I couldn’t even have my cell phone when I was in the house. I knew my time with DCF was coming to an end. Maybe I was also scared and nervous about what was going to happen next since we had done little to no planning. I mostly felt frustrated and wanted my freedom.

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