By Nancy Tannler
There are an estimated 8,200 homeless youth in our state–many of them in need of immediate assistance. The recently completed $9 million interagency funds transfer from the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services (OHCS) to the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) Self-Sufficiency/Youth Experiencing Homelessness Programs will help stabilize some of these youth.
According to Jake Sunderland, Press Secretary ODHS, these funds are being used to coordinate a statewide delivery system to youth under age 25 experiencing homelessness. This funding will also support College Housing Northwest’s Affordable Rents for College Students (ARCS), which pays rent for a year and ensures each student receives case management services through New Avenues for Youth and the Native American Youth Association.
In 2021, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) completed the State of Oregon’s first needs assessment focused on these young people. Long-term housing was identified as one of the greatest needs and, based on this assessment, it would take an estimated $154 million to cover the costs for everyone. The $9 million is a start.
In the CSH assessment, five regions of the state were studied–Southern, Mid-Valley, Eastern OR, Central/Gorge and Portland Metro. Sunderland said that Oregon has the fifth highest number of Unaccompanied Homeless Youth (UHY) in the country.
Sunderland went on to say that it is important to understand that youth homelessness is generally not a choice. “Factors contributing to youth homelessness include family conflict or an unsafe home life, family poverty, aging out of the foster care system without supports in place, failing to complete high school and being a pregnant or parenting youth,” he said.
Youth identifying as LGBTQIA2S+ count for the highest number of homeless, followed by American Indian and Alaskan Indian youth, Black youth, Hispanic youth and white, non-Hispanic youth. Here in the Metro area, there are about 3,845 under 25 experiencing homelessness. Due to a lack of funding and resources in more rural areas of the state, some young people migrate to the Portland metro area in hopes of finding better services. Since 2013, when the state began funding designated programs for homeless youth, they have seen that one of the main predictors of chronic adult homelessness is being an UHY.
Sunderland says it is hard to give an exact number of homeless youth because many of them feel unsafe coming forward for assistance. They prefer to stay “off the radar.” His guess is that the number is larger than stated above.
For youth in a housing crisis, ODHS uses what they term a “front porch” system to approach the problem. As a way to develop trusting relationships, team members do street outreach that is focused on locations where young people are known to congregate.
The Janus Youth Program opened the first drop-in center for youth in 1972. Today, there are more. They provide a safe environment where meals, showers, health care and counseling is offered to help those experiencing homelessness.
Short-term shelters offer crisis housing in the form of an emergency shelter, host homes or transitional housing. This is only for an estimated three to six months. During this time, social services provides what they call “upstream prevention” to prevent recidivism. Case managers meet the immediate needs of youth, like the drop-in center, but the main goal is to help the youth reconnect to permanent housing. They will also help, if necessary, mediate family/friend connections.
For those who will need more time and help to become stabilized, Transitional Living Programs (TLP) are the solution–when available. These are non-time-limited housing and support for young people experiencing behavioral health and/or substance use challenges. Case management is provided to assist in individualized transition plans that will provide the direction to self-sufficient living.
As mentioned earlier, finding this type of housing is what is needed most. “Host homes are a new initiative to the ODHS Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program,” Sunderland said. “We are learning through our contracted host home programs. It is definitely challenging for the community host home programs to find and support volunteer homes, but each program has an outreach plan and small stipends may be offered.”
The ODHS Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program has an annual budget of approximately $3.3 million per biennium statewide. The recent $9 million has been allotted to establish new grant relationships with youth-serving organizations and support current programs; short-term and long-term youth-apartment initiatives; creating a technical assistance handbook for the implementation of host homes; and evaluation of needs for host home and direct cash transfer initiatives.
In Portland, youth in need of support can contact the Janus Youth Program’s Access Center at 503.432.3986 or bit.ly/JanusCenters.
Also available for immediate help are New Avenues for Youth, 314 SW 9th Ave., 503.224.4339; Outside In, 1132 SW 13th Ave., 503.535.3860; and Native American Youth Association, 5135 NE Columbia Blvd., 503.288.8177.
The future of society is determined by the youth of today. These programs will help ensure more people will have the chance to share that responsibility.