A preventive solution to youth homelessness
POSTED: 08/21/17, 1:50 PM PDT | UPDATED: ON 08/21/2017
Author: Christina Herrera
Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice
Growing up, I never envisioned being homeless. I knew my circumstances weren’t the best since both my parents were struggling with addiction, and in and out of jail, but the long-term effects of not having parents never crossed my mind.
Like most homeless youth I know, we became homeless because of the lack of support due to parental addictions, mental illness and/or abuse. Others came from families that were financially unable to, or chose not to, continue to support their child after age 18 when the law no longer mandated.
Young adults are 50 percent more likely to become the adult homeless without support at this critical age, as reported by Stanford’s study, “Connected by 25.”
Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO), a Marin nonprofit, provides a successful, preventative and cost-effective solution to this issue. A year in Marin County Jail costs $78,000 per inmate. San Quentin State Prison’s cost is $75,560, as reported in the June 2017 LA Times. Intervention through AHO costs approximately $1,000 per youth per year.
Youth homelessness is undeniably a growing trend in Marin County.
In fact, according to the Marin County Office of Education, 983 students were documented as homeless in Marin County schools, compared with 152 students documented 10 years ago: an 85 percent increase.
Marin’s HUD 2015 Point in Time count reported that homeless young people represent 28 percent of the total homeless population, yet they were never included in the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness?
Although the county claims the numbers for homeless youth have decreased, according to the 2017 Point in Time count, where homeless youth only appeared to make up 11 percent of the homeless population, this number excludes the hundreds of non-system youths served by AHO each year, youth who have no support without AHO because they are not mentally ill or former foster youth.
As a student at College of Marin, I made countless attempts to find housing so I could continue my education and employment. Then, one day everything changed when my counselor referred me to AHO.
When I called, I was surprised I was given the direct line to Zara Babitzke, AHO’s founder and executive director. Within 24 hours of that call, Babitzke met me at the Aroma Café in San Rafael, a non-stigmatizing location where I could comfortably express my needs.
I shared the top three things I needed to go forward on my personal goals, and completed a simple, one-page intake form. Babitzke helped me create an action plan to begin working with some of AHO’s 99-member Alliance for Youth volunteer professionals.
Within weeks, I was able to get an apartment near my son’s school through AHO’s Housing Fund.
While housing is the most critical need of homeless youth, it is not the answer unless ongoing personalized and comprehensive support is provided to sustain housing, which AHO provides, and prevents youth like me from becoming the adult homeless.
I’ve had a personal finance adviser, pro bono major dental work, ongoing licensed therapy, auto repairs and much more. With AHO, I am treated like a capable person, not someone to be pitied, which inspires me even more to succeed.
Everything I had struggled so hard to obtain on my own, including leadership opportunities like writing this article, AHO provided.
Thirteen and a half years ago, Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity began shining a light on this issue and offering a new narrative with a focus on prevention, along with ways the community could be involved in the solution. I am proud to be participating on the AHO Youth Leadership Team, comprised of previously homeless and at-risk youth and their peers that “give back” for the help AHO provides.
Currently I’m on the planning committee for the team’s upcoming Fall Town Hall Forum on this issue with state Sen. Mike McGuire hosting. It is the hope of the AHO Youth Team that the community will exit this forum with a deeper understanding of youth homelessness and be compelled to step in to become part of the solution.
*Christina Herrera, 24, is a member of the Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity Youth Team and Forum Planning Committee.
To read original article posting, click here: http://www.marinij.com/opinion/20170821/marin-voice-a-preventive-solution-to-youth-homelessness