MIDDLETOWN — Back in April, service providers from across the state, ranging from child welfare to justice to education staff, decided to join together in the 100 Day Challenge to End Homelessness for Youth and Young Adults.
The Middlesex United Way, along with other area nonprofits, provided funding and support of this initiative, as well as worked alongside our partners, The Coalition on Housing & Homelessness.
While homelessness is decreasing among adults and families, homelessness among our youth and young adults is increasing at an alarming rate. Youth homelessness presents significant challenges to schools, providers and state agencies.
Conventional methods for assessing the problem often do not work with these homeless youth, because they are less accessible than their adult counterparts, difficult to track down, and frequently unwilling to talk to the adult volunteers seeking to engage them.
This year’s annual youth count provided data regarding homelessness, with concerning results. Middlesex County findings included: 20 percent of homeless youth felt unsafe where they were staying, 67 percent had criminal justice involvement, 60 percent had Department of Children and Families or foster care involvement, and 18 percent said they had been encouraged, pressured or forced to exchange sexual acts for money, drugs, food, a place to stay, clothing or protection.
After 100 days, youth homelessness is obviously not solved, but we certainly made significant strides in our goal that has led to great results. Some of the local results included increased connections to regional child welfare partners and education partners, and streamlining workflow utilizing new youth navigator partnership.
In Middlesex County, 10 youth and young adults were successfully paired with housing during the 100-day period. Together, we learned new outreach strategies to best find these youth and young adults. To continue this work, this team is planning on another outreach event in the coming weeks.
The results from the rest of the state were equally impressive, with a total of 397 youth and young adults connected to housing in the 100-day period.
This challenge has made a significant impact on youth homelessness in Connecticut. Data from the statewide By-Name List shows that the number of youths experiencing homelessness dropped from 221 to 188 over the course of the 100-Day Challenge.
The 100-Day Challenge to End Youth Homelessness in Connecticut was the first statewide effort of its kind, particularly one focused on bringing together homeless service providers, child welfare, justice, and education staff from across the state to make their response systems more effective.
This is hard work, and likely an uphill battle, but we are committed. We envision a community where our youth develop the skills the need to lead positive and productive lives, and that starts with being safe, healthy and housed.
Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.