Program Sets Sights On Youth, Young Adult Homelessness
BARNSTABLE – In researching the issue of homelessness and housing instability on the Cape and Islands, Barnstable County officials came upon what Dan Gray called a “hidden population,” namely teens and young adults in their early 20s.
The county unveiled a new “coordinated community plan” in January that aims to find solutions to the issue of youth and young adult homelessness in the region. Through “Hopeful Homes: Sea Change For The Cape and Islands Youth and Young Adults,” the Barnstable County Department of Human Services wants to team up with various agencies and partners to address the issue on a number of fronts, from identifying new, innovative housing models to making existing housing more attainable for younger people.
But Gray, the county department’s continual care program manager, said one of the biggest challenges facing the federally funded initiative is identifying those youth and young adults most in need of housing support.
Hopeful Homes is being funded as a two-year pilot program through a $1.35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the county’s efforts to tackle the problem date back further to 2019, when the state began issuing grants to help combat youth homelessness across Massachusetts.
That same year, the county undertook a housing needs assessment that looked into where the need was on the Cape and Islands.
“Especially on the Cape, young people facing housing instability were really a hidden population,” Gray said. “Things like small social networks and stigma around homelessness really suppressed some of the identification of young people that were facing housing instability.”
Gray estimated that between 100 and 140 youth and young adults in the region were serviced through those state grants. The causes are many, he said, from the high cost and limited availability of rental housing to other issues specific to particular households.
“We have young people who are caregivers for their younger siblings,” Gray said. “Being able to maintain that caregiver role while working and going to school and the myriad different circumstances that they face can contribute to that struggle with high rental costs.”
But getting a firm grasp of just how many people are impacted by the problem on the Cape and Islands is difficult. Part of the problem, Gray said, is some youth don’t identify as homeless themselves.
“Data has suggested that the Cape and Islands, compared to the rest of the commonwealth, has a much higher percentage of young people couch surfing, staying with friends or another place where they can lay their head at night,” he said.
That’s where the community partnerships come into play. Gray said the county is encouraging individuals and organizations to reach out to the human services department with any information they might have about someone they know between the ages of 18 and 24 who might be dealing with housing insecurity or homelessness.
“Maybe it’s a coach, and the youth goes to the coach and says ‘Hey, I have no place to stay tonight.’ Yes, it’s great that that coach might say ‘Come stay with me,’ but we also want them to be able to say ‘Let me link you with the Housing Assistance Corporation or Homeless Prevention Council, or Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.”
Amanda Hutchinson recently started working with the Homeless Prevention Council in December as a youth outreach worker. Her job is to make connections in the community to better identify those young people in the region in need of housing support.
“My goal in bringing outreach is to make those connections, going to health centers, schools, community centers, the community college, just to really try and get the word out there that we’re here to help,” she said.
And while the exact number is hard to catch, Hutchinson said she and Mary O’Reilly, HPC’s youth outreach coordinator, see overwhelming evidence of the problem locally.
“We see a lot of young adults living in hotels,” she said. “We see them in unsafe living situations just because they don’t have another place to go. We see it every single day. We even know of young people who have had to sleep outside.”
Part of the Hopeful Homes initiative includes a host homes program that was piloted last year by HPC on the Lower and Outer Cape. The program tries to encourage and incentivize homeowners to rent spare rooms in their homes to youth and young adults in need of housing.
Gray said the host homes program is new to the region, but there’s plenty of opportunity for it to work locally.
“When we looked at what the available housing stock is on Cape, I don’t think it’s any shock to anyone that there’s a lot of empty bedrooms,” he said. “There’s not a lot of empty houses or empty apartments, but I think there are a lot of empty bedrooms that could effectively help a young person with a transition opportunity.”
The council’s CEO, Hadley Luddy, said two homeowners participated in the program last year, and it’s already making a difference. She spoke of one young person who was living in a non-winterized cottage while attending school and working six days a week. He was paired with a homeowner, and now attends college full time and has a place to stay whenever he needs it.
With more support through the Hopeful Homes initiative, which includes offering property owners a monthly $1,000 stipend, she believes there’s plenty of opportunity to expand the host homes program’s reach.
“Without a doubt we’ve seen an interest,” she said. “We’ve been operating on such a small scale, it’ll be very interesting to see what we can do on a broader scale.”
But Gray reiterated the importance of being able to better identify those people in the community that qualify for support and resources through the Hopeful Homes program. By identifying those people, he said county officials and their partners can better understand what the specific needs are for youth and young adults struggling with housing. For some, it could be the ability to find affordable childcare options. For others, he said, there’s a social need to connect with other people their age with similar backgrounds and experiences.
“We think it’s really important that we explore all of those things to make sure that we’re hearing what young people want and we’re meeting those needs in the community,” he said.
Better identification and earlier intervention for young people facing homelessness can also help make a dent in the region’s 25 to 54 age group, which Luddy cited as a demographic most impacted by issues such as housing insecurity.
“That’s our workforce,” she said. “That’s our full- and part-time workforce. So if we can target people earlier and stabilize them, I think we would see a real improvement there.”
Looking ahead, the county must reapply annually to fund the Hopeful Homes program. But Gray said he’s optimistic that the program will continue to be level funded through HUD.
“Historically, once those dollars are appropriated at the federal level, usually they’re renewable,” he said. “It’s very infrequent that HUD has decreased the amount of funding being dedicated toward homelessness services.”
Individuals and organizations interested in partnering with the county on the Hopeful Homes initiative can contact Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also reach out to HPC at hpccapecod.org
“I think this is really the launch of our CCP, not the conclusion of that 18 month process,” Gray said.
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