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President's Blog

Free, Young, and Homeless

By Jean-Michel Giraud, President & CEO, Friendship Place

Pundits and advocates agree: the time has come to solve homelessness among youth in a more systematic and person-centric way. Truth be told, some groups have been working with youth experiencing homelessness for years, like Sasha Bruce Youthwork in Washington, DC and Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco, but the shift in focus from the system at large is a more recent and promising development.

Interestingly, some groups are also just starting to formally focus on youth homelessness. This is our case at Friendship Place with Before Thirty and Youth Connect, our youth outreach program covering downtown DC and other key locations in Washington, both developed in the last couple of years.

This trend is echoed on the advocacy side on the websites of organizations like the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Whether we are long-time youth services providers or relative newcomers to the scene, we’re all in this together, we are all completely passionate about the cause, and we are all ready to deploy the right resources to solve youth homelessness.

Learning from what a national movement can do to help a particular group, namely veterans, in the last few years, service providers and advocates have turned their attention to the often overlooked young people who survive in subcultures of their own on our city streets.

One of the wonderful things about helping people in this age group rebuild their lives is that you are helping somebody with his or her entire life ahead of them…so the possibilities are endless in terms of what these young people will achieve.

Certainly, we know they will live better lives thanks to the help they receive, but who knows what amazing leaders will come from this group in decades to come!

The reality on the street is sobering, however. Youth are routinely exposed to exploitation, prostitution, generally poor hygiene and other substandard living conditions. In urban centers, many turn to trading sex for a place to stay in the evening, connecting with adults on dating websites.

There is so much we need to do and undo in all this, but, first of all, we need to approach the youth in a non-judgmental and completely accepting way. We all know what necessity causes people to do. If faced with a desperate situation, most of us might make choices we would later regret.

Youth homelessness goes way back in American cities, but the solutions we are developing now are going to change this phenomenon in a deep and effective way. Progress is likely to be greater in the next ten years than in any other decade before. The approaches are evolving quickly. Service providers are finding that non-traditional programming has a lot of appeal for youth and that helping them enhance or create communities of their own is helpful.

For instance, two or three young people can create a family of choice that will help them get through some of the journey to rebuild their lives by providing peer support. Shared Living has already proven to be a viable solution for adults experiencing homelessness and Employment First also works well, so it makes sense to adapt these solutions to the work with youth.

We are also finding that giving young people voices to help build our systems is especially empowering and productive…but some of us already knew this from the work on the adult side.

We are at a turning point on youth homelessness. Keep your minds open and stay tuned. You’re going to like what you see!

Read this post on the Huffington Post website

About the author: A leading voice in the effort to combat homelessness with innovative solutions, Jean Michel has been been a contributor for the Huffington Post for since 2012.

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