What happens when young people who have directly experienced the challenges of homelessness or unsafe/unstable housing bring their expertise, passion, and creativity to the goal of transforming systems and ending youth homelessness?
- They bring reality-based understanding to existing homelessness efforts about the unique needs of youth in a given community.
- They model a core commitment to inclusion and equity that can be a struggle for older adults and more traditional systems of decision-making.
- They form an accepting, empowering community that strengthens the youth who participate.
- All this and more!
Across the U.S., rural, suburban, and urban communities that have made a commitment to end homelessness are learning how to understand and address the specific needs of youth and young adults. Just as with other populations in need of services and resources, the insights of those most directly affected — in this case, young people with lived experience of homelessness — are essential to finding solutions. This is why one of the key first steps is for a community to form a Youth Action Board that brings youth and young adults to the forefront of planning and implementation efforts.
Over the past few years, TAC has worked closely with many communities on their plans to end youth homelessness. At the center of each engagement has been the YAB, a decision-making entity made up of youth and young adults who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness. YABs provide leadership and guidance in partnership with other key stakeholders in the process of developing and implementing a plan to end to youth homelessness in the communities where they operate.
Every community is different, but there has been a great deal of interest in “what works” for others, and communities often have questions about best practices nationally for YABs. TAC has encountered YABs at all different stages — some well-established, some that have met formally for a short time, and others that have two or three core members identified, but haven’t yet taken the next step. So TAC decided to gather a sampling of YAB expertise as a guide for communities at all stages of YAB development.
Working with Lauren Leonardis, an independent consultant specializing in youth homelessness issues and a founding director of the large and active Boston YAB, we surveyed seven YABs, seeking to capture a snapshot of each one. The communities were asked about the big picture — their strengths and challenges — as well as the small details that push them forward like facilitation practices, budget, and recruitment efforts.
The results are fascinating and inspiring as they show diverse strategies, challenges, and opportunities in each unique community at the specific moment when the survey was answered. To share them, TAC has created The Gab on YABs – a series of fact sheets with an overview of each community, to be followed soon by a “topic spotlight” series looking at patterns and trends in areas of interest like compensation, structure, recruitment, and more.
We hope these resources will answer some of the questions communities have about how other YABs are making it work. No matter what stage your community has reached, The Gab on YABs can help you bring the voices and power of youth and young adults with lived experience of homelessness directly into all planning and implementation decisions.