Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Last In the Youth Homelessness Series: Amanda's Reflections

I got involved with DCAYA during my first couple of months as a metro area couch surfer in early 2007. I stayed involved, for the most part, up until the day I was packing the last of my belongings (seriously, I called in for my last Youth Homelessness Committee meeting while the movers were loading up my stuff). I arrived in DC, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to pursue my passion of working to end youth homelessness. The DC advocate and provider community was just starting to come together around solidifying and improving services for homeless youth.

Truth be told, at the time, I had no idea that basically nobody knew anything about homeless youth in America. Through my volunteer work with DCAYA, I learned about the struggles faced by providers and often assumed to be faced by young people. As a solution-oriented person, I was ├╝ber concerned about developing more housing programs, since this seemed to be the biggest challenge before us.

It wasn’t until 2010 that we finally began work on finding out what young people REALLY need to achieve stability. At first, we decided it'd be best to see what else people are doing around the country. I, the research nerd, dug up promising models to adapt to anecdotal stories and internal research from local providers. Things began moving full-steam ahead when the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) caught wind of our work. Just as Maggie Riden (now Senior Policy Analyst) came on board, the ICH asked us to make the youth plan an official part of the citywide plan to end homelessness.

Maggie went straight to work organizing committee meetings, planning retreats, and co-chairing the newly-formed ICH Youth Subcommittee. Our meetings dug into the depths of provider experiences and ideas around the current state of homeless youth services in DC as well as ideas for the future. The great thing about planning, though, is that it helps you see where the holes are. Although we were working to develop the next great idea to help DC government understand – and act on – our urgency, we realized that we needed to take a step back and answer some very serious questions.

Who are DC's homeless youth? We have fewer than 200 beds, but have served over 1400 youth. Where do they go when they're not in a program? What issues do they face, given their lack of housing? How did they become homeless in the first place?

The ICH Youth Homelessness Subcommittee knew we needed to answer these questions and decided that the next step had to be developing and implementing a study to get answers Fortunately, the DCAYA Youth Homelessness committee was already planning to execute the same type of study. I was hired to help facilitate the study and develop the report. I co-trained volunteers, sorted out logistics, interviewed young people, dug up local and national stats, compared research to the results of our own survey, and worked with Maggie to tease out the meaning of it all.

Aside from the obvious benefit to the community of homeless youth and service providers in DC and beyond, this effort has had a major impact on all involved. For me, being part of it has shaped who I am as a social worker, helped me develop and refine my professional goals, and inspired me to take my work to the next level by developing meaningful research on how to best help homeless youth build the lives they want to live. I am ever grateful for my 4 1/2-year journey with DCAYA and am beyond excited to know that I played a part in helping this study become a reality.

But it's not over! I look forward to seeing DC’s leadership use our report to see to the success of DC's most vulnerable youth. Many of these young people will one day be our leaders; it's up to us to make sure they have every opportunity to do so.

Amanda Michelle Jones, former DCAYA Graduate Research Assistant, is currently working towards a PhD in Social Work in Chicago, IL. You can keep up with her doctoral shenanigans at www.AmandaMichelleJones.com

More information on the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and "From the Streets to Stability" can be accessed on dc-aya.org.

No comments: