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As part of National Youth Homeless Awareness Month in November, we took a closer look at the number of youth experiencing homelessness in Detroit, factors that contribute to housing instability for young people, and community organizations that provide stable environments for those without stable housing. habitat.
“There are many reasons why a young person becomes homeless,” said Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center. “We have just emerged from the largest health care crisis in our country, and as a result, some young people may be experiencing homelessness with their parents due to chronic disinvestment in our community’s substandard housing stock.”
Founded in 2017, the Detroit Phoenix Center is a highly influential nonprofit organization that serves 150 youth year-round, providing resources and support to youth at risk or currently experiencing homelessness. The organization includes a drop-in center where youth can shower and wash clothes, a food pantry and supports including mental health services and after-school programs.
In addition, the Center provides emergency housing intervention by providing hotel rooms and offering a first month’s rent and security deposit for youth in the community. Their community outreach and programs reach up to 1,200 young people a year.
“Other reasons young people may find themselves homeless include employment or financial reasons,” Smith said. “Many young people have also been affected by the juvenile justice system or the guardianship system, where they have nowhere else to turn. They’re being pushed out of these systems without a lot of other resources.”
According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, homelessness is defined as the absence of a permanent, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
Homeless situations may include sharing housing with others due to housing loss, economic hardship, or a similar reason; staying in motels, hotels, car parks or campsites due to lack of alternative suitable accommodation; staying in emergency or temporary shelters; or sleeping in cars, parks, public places, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings.
According to a 2021 study by the University of Michigan Poverty Solutions, nearly nine out of 10 Detroit students who do not live are not identified by schools.
The Center has developed a new dataset, Educational Implications of Homelessness and Housing Instability in Detroit, to offer information on the underidentification of homeless students in Detroit and the link between homelessness and chronic absenteeism, mid-year transfers, graduation and dropout rates, school discipline rates , access to public assistance and likelihood of entering the foster care system.
The analysis found that identifying the exact number of homeless youth in Detroit is difficult. The study found that “while Detroit schools identified 1,785 children as homeless in SY 2017-18, between 7,000 and 14,000 school-aged children were estimated to be homeless that year.”
Black students were at greater risk of homelessness than their peers of other races, with 86 percent of students experiencing homelessness, compared to 83 percent of students overall.
“Also, of course, homelessness can arise from family conflict and abuse in the home, where there can be different values,” Smith said, “especially among the LGBTQ+ community. In Detroit, black and brown youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless space.”
Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated nearly $5.2 million to programs to combat youth homelessness in Detroit.
Funding is available as part of a youth homelessness demonstration program for 33 communities. In Detroit, the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) applied for funding twice before being awarded after a third application.
HAND locally administers HUD’s Continuum of Care programs, which provide pooled funding to nonprofit organizations and state and local governments to rapidly relocate homeless individuals and families while minimizing injury and dislocation.
“Some of the parameters of the HUD funding allow us to be a little more innovative in serving youth than ever before because this is a demonstration project,” said Tasha Gray, executive director of HAND. “In the next few weeks, we will select a number of nonprofits to administer funding to provide a range of resources to youth experiencing homelessness, including transitional and permanent housing programs and mental health services.”
HAND does not provide direct services, but coordinates planning efforts for the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM), Detroit’s local coordinated entry system for homeless assistance. Their goal is to refer needy residents to support programs, include standardized intake and assessment programs, and work in partnership with community organizations.
Under the auspices of the Detroit Phoenix Center, the Youth Advisory Council consists of 10-12 young residents who participate in strategic development of the needs of their peers, including HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is what we call ‘adulthood’ in our understanding of youth homelessness,” Gray said, “which means that sometimes there are adults who think that youth are homeless because of the rash young decisions that they could accept in their lives. But the reality is that some of our young people simply don’t have a support system, or they’re in foster care and separated from their families. Or the family may have unstable housing. The reasons why people think that young children are homeless are not the main reasons.’