VYH testifies for Philadelphia City Council on homelessness prevention
Valley Youth House’s VP of SE Programs, Allison Moore, provided testimony before Philadelphia’s City Council yesterday about homelessness prevention and the need for increased supports and funding. VYH was one of several agencies to participate, including People’s Emergency Center, Juvenile Law Center, Office of Homeless Services, and the Family Service Provider Network.
Read more about the hearing at WHYY, or watch one of the videos below to hear testimony directly from the hearing.
"I need help. I'm a single mother with a child who needs help." pic.twitter.com/5SP5pjOvdZ
— Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) March 13, 2017
Full testimony is as follows:
Good morning. I am Allison Moore, Vice President for the Southeast Region for Valley Youth House (VYH). I am the mother of two little girls, and every day, I am reminded of the importance of children and youth having a safe, stable home where they can curl up in their own bed, with no worries of the scary things that happen at night, in the dark and on the streets. In recent years, it was estimated that 1.7 million children and adolescents under the age of 18 experienced homelessness on an annual basis. This is in addition to the approximately 150,000 18-24 year olds who are without a home. All of these young people are real and full of possibility; we have to see them and help to match them with homes of their own.
At Valley Youth House, our mission is to empower and strengthen the lives of children, youth and families through inclusive programming that builds resilience and fosters growth and independence. The agency began in 1973 as a single shelter and now provides prevention, intervention and housing services to children, young adults and families in 12 counties in Eastern Pennsylvania.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the young people in Philadelphia who are striving to overcome poverty, housing instability, abuse, neglect and discrimination. Each year, VYH serves approximately 1700 young people ages 14-24 through emergency street outreach, independent living skills coaching and instruction, scattered-site housing and linkages to permanent connections. This is done through our four housing programs, permanency services and The Achieving Independence Center (AIC), a collaborative project sponsored by the Department of Human Services and managed by Valley Youth House. The AIC provides support and real life tools for young adults transitioning from the foster care system to independent adulthood. Additionally, The Synergy Project is tasked with reaching over 3,000 youth through street outreach activities, in Philadelphia throughout 2017.
The Outreach Workers, Life Skills Counselors and Coaches teach youth how to access education and employment resources, budget and manage their money, learn tenants’ rights and ways to access public mainstream benefits to create an actionable plan out of poverty and challenging life circumstances. Our ultimate goal is to have every vulnerable youth and young adult connected to a nurturing community, and prevent them from entering or continuing the cycle of “system” involvement.
Recently, I was in my office meeting with one of our Life Skills Counselors. There was a knock on the door, which is a typical occurrence. However, instead of a regular interruption, in popped a face I knew, but it was different now. The first time I saw “Samantha’s” face eleven years ago, it showed anger, frustration, and mistrust. Now, that face beamed with motivation and vibrancy. A confident woman stood before me. She is the proud mother of a teenage daughter, whom she was headed to pick up from middle school. “Samantha” is now an entrepreneur, with her own licensed janitorial company here in the City of Philadelphia.
The trajectory of her life changed when she entered Valley Youth House’s program eleven years ago. “Samantha” identified a scattered-site apartment; negotiated lease terms with her Life Skills Counselor’s help, and moved into a home with her child. She continued to receive rental and utility assistance while finishing her high school diploma. There were many ups and downs throughout her participation in the program and in the years to come after the financial assistance ended. She still called the office, stopped in periodically for guidance and struggled through young adulthood. She is now a 30 year old woman, who stands out in the crowd. “Samantha” made it work. “Samantha” and her daughter are one among many that benefited from the connection to safe housing, financial resources and caring adults who helped her to overcome what happened in her own childhood.
When individuals like “Samantha” connect with people and places that care, the results are drastically different. Instead of being one in four who do not complete high school by age 24, they earn diplomas and go on to higher education and certification programs.
All of the agencies here today can cite positive outcomes for the youth and families connecting with their programs. Having a safe place to live creates an environment for children, youth and young adults to excel. They can focus on school, work and the typical issues facing youth. The worries and fear of finding their next place to sleep is alleviated.
Across the United States of America, there was a 21% increase in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth attending public school from 2012 to 2015. That is equivalent to 95,032 students being on their own, without a place to live in the 2014-2015 school year. Pennsylvania reported that 26,273 children and youth who experienced homelessness were served in the 2013-2014 school year, an approximate 28 percent increase from the 2010-2011 school year. Most homeless students are “couch surfing” (moving from place to place without a permanent home) and not staying in shelters or sleeping outdoors. They are experiencing homelessness due to poverty, family alienation or disruption, and the lack of other resources. In Pennsylvania, 64 percent of homeless students lived this way. Less than 30 percent were found in traditional shelters.
Here in Philadelphia, the number of unaccompanied homeless youth is at its highest. For the 2014-15 school year, 5,764 students were experiencing homelessness. In January 2017, the annual Youth Point-In-Time Count surveyed 196 individuals age 24 and under, and nearly half of them had an episode of homelessness in the last three years. In 2016, in its first year of operation, The Synergy Project engaged with 741 youth in need of housing resources. In the first two months of this year, the team has already encountered 234 young people through outreach efforts. By engaging with youth and young adults before they are on the streets or quickly after, there is a much greater likelihood of preventing them from being trafficked or falling into other destructive behaviors that result from traumatic experiences.
To truly make a change, and end youth and family homelessness by 2020, prevention and intervention services for youth and young adults, ages 14-24 years old, are crucial. Valley Youth House is working to combine the efforts of our street outreach and permanency
services teams that help youth to address the trauma and loss they have experienced, while connecting them to caring, supportive adults in their existing network for safe housing options. This risk-reduction approach has been successful in diverting youth from system involvement, preventing youth from losing housing and decreasing episodes of homelessness.
Teachers, sports coaches, neighbors, faith-based members and other concerned adults can reach out to request resources and information to help a youth that may be at-risk of homelessness. These youth will work with The Synergy Project through a Permanency Services Specialist, who provides a trauma informed intervention, requiring at least 10 meet-ups with the youth. They identify resources and support needed to divert youth to stable housing with kin or host homes before entering into the child welfare, juvenile/ criminal justice or emergency housing systems. This may include counseling and mediation with the family to help alleviate challenges that currently strain the family dynamic; coordination with the school to ensure attendance and monitor performance; identify permanent connections to build youths’ support network; and address housing issues of the family as a whole. Youth are also linked to mentors through the six to 12 months of intervention, while engaging in activities to heal the pains inflected by past trauma.
The cost to serve 150 youth with the full intervention model in one year is $375,000. This is $2500 per six month unit of service. An additional $100,000 is requested to help address the homelessness prevention needs of the family such as household repairs, utility assistance, and relocation costs. The annual program cost would be approximately $500,000. Outcome tracking for this prevention program would include the number of youth maintaining stable housing with their family or other caring adult, staying in school, and when appropriate, accessing employment or mainstream benefits. Most importantly, the program will document the number of youth who gain confidence and can express a plan that will take them to their desired future.
It is our responsibility to create a City that loves and cares for children, youth and young adults. They need healthy families, safe housing, outstanding schools and supportive communities to thrive in our City. On behalf of all the youth serving providers, we are eager to continue to work with City Council and the Kenney Administration on these efforts. And, I want to thank all of the City Council members for their time today and interest in preventing homelessness.
 – 2012 National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children; http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/an-emerging-framework-for-ending-unaccompanied-youth-homelessness