By Becky Avila, PhD Grants Manager for Safe Place for Youth
Experiences of homelessness among youth and young adults ages 18-24 is on the rise in Los Angeles. According to this year’s LA Homeless Authority’s (LAHSA) Point in Time homeless count, there are over 3,000 youth sleeping on the streets of LA County on any given night–10% of which reside on the Westside. Given the transient nature of youth homelessness and the precarity of stable and affordable housing, the numbers are likely higher. In the same year for example, Safe Place for Youth (SPY) served over 1300 individual young people on the Westside alone. So what is the issue?
There are many pathways into homelessness for young adults. Some of the most common precipitating factors are household poverty, aging out of the foster care system, fleeing from abusive and/or toxic home environments, that include childhood neglect and poor mental health. These factors are compounded by LA’s soaring rental costs, stagnant wages, and sheer lack of supportive services for transition age youth (TAY) between the ages of 18-24. This can make it incredibly challenging for young people to locate affordable, safe, and stable housing.
Exiting homelessness is also difficult for young adults who are often labelled “low-priority.” The historical efforts to curtail homelessness have typically focused on the needs of chronically homeless adults, meaning that young people were often underserved or misserved. This is especially true for the Westside, where there are currently NO TAY-specific emergency or medium to long-term shelter, other than six beds reserved for students at a privately-run shelter; and permanent housing programs within and beyond the Westside can have wait times for up to 3 months. In the interim, street-bound youth are continually exposed to the dangers of surviving on the streets.
When did it become ok for kids to sleep in alleys, storefronts, and under freeways? This was the question posed by SPY founder and acting Executive Director, Alison Hurst. Unwilling to turn a blind eye, Alison mobilized her family, neighbors, and a dedicated cohort of volunteers to serve homeless youth in the community. The efforts began humbly and involved providing food packs and dry socks to youth on Venice Beach. Those seeds of community action, cultivated by Alison’s vision and a budding network of community volunteers and partner agencies, laid the groundwork for SPY’s founding in 2011. The idea: to deliver youth-specific services that utilize community resources, volunteers, youth voices, and trauma-informed care that support homeless youth with exiting the streets. In 2015, we opened the doors to our “hub of hope” Drop-In Center in Venice, which annually serves over 1,000 unduplicated homeless and/or at-risk youth. In 2016, SPY became West LA’s lead agency and access point for the Youth Coordinated Entry System (YCES), the county’s systematic effort to connecting homeless youth to organizations that provide shelter, housing, and services.
At our Drop-In Center, youth between the ages of 12-25 receive low-barrier day-access to basic needs, long-term critical supportive resources, holistic programming, and peer-to-peer connections. Our robust continuum of care includes westside-based street outreach, Drop-In services where youth can access hot meals, showers, clothing, and connections to our case management teams, crisis intervention, housing linkages, education and employment programming, health and wellness programs, family reconnection services, pregnant and parenting support, and healing arts programs. In 2018, we supported nearly 200 youth with exiting the streets, served over 23,000 meals, provided nearly 500 counseling sessions and 200 health consultations. We also enrolled nearly 60 young people in school and supported 96 individuals with finding employment. Our programs are designed to empower young people to take control of their lives and ensure that their experiences of homelessness are prevented and/or brief and non-recurring.
“The kids we see at SPY,” shares SPY Executive Director Alison Hurst, “ are fleeing abuse and neglect and have been thrown away by the very people meant to protect them.” When asked how they became homeless, 59% of our SPY members report having been kicked out by a parent or caregiver, runaway from abusive environments that include physical and/or sexual abuse, homophobia or transphobia, parental mental illness, and substance abuse; 26% report previous involvement in the foster care system. Since our founding, SPY has focused on providing a safe space for homeless and at-risk youth to stabilize and prosper. The lack of available housing programs for youth on the Westside has proven our greatest challenge in helping young people achieve this stability. Nevertheless, we persist. Our work with the young people in our community is informed by our commitment to pathways to hope, and not homelessness. We hope you’ll join us in our collaborative efforts and support the nearly 300 youth in need of your support on the Westside and the over 3,000 youth countywide. Everyone deserves a home and everyone has a role to play in finding a solution to youth homelessness in our city.
If you’d like to connect with or donate to Safe Place for Youth please email our team at email@example.com