Op-ed in The Advocate: "This Is Our Plan to End Youth Homelessness"

Point Source Youth's President Larry Cohen recently published the following op-ed in The Advocate discussing the crisis of youth homelessness in the USA, the work that we're doing to address it, and our theory of change.

This Is Our Plan to End Youth Homelessness

What if I told you that we’re on the brink of ending the youth homelessness crisis, one of the nation’s most visible and shameful epidemics? Yes, it will take a tremendous amount of work and a huge increase in national funding. For some youth, homelessness will still occur, and we will work to make it brief, rare, and nonrecurring. Given that, I’m happy to say it’s still not an exaggeration or a case of wishful thinking to say there is a clear path to end this crisis, and Point Source Youth and an amazing group of partners, researchers, and collaborators are working to finally end youth homelessness.

Nearly 2 million youth experience homelessness each year. Experts estimate that 50 percent are youth of color and up to 40 percent identify as LGBTQ — and many are both. Most alarming are the reports that the number of LGBTQ homeless youth is increasing. There is a severe lack of services for these young people, and of the services that do exist, few work to prevent youth from becoming homeless in the first place. What is widely agreed upon is that there is little to no data showing what works to end this crisis.

This is why a committed group of leaders came together to launch Point Source Youth in 2015 — to respond to these service gaps by demonstrating how we will effectively end the crisis, and to produce the data to show what works for different youth populations. Point Source Youth works with existing service providers, advocacy organizations, funders, academic experts, and researchers to implement and rigorously test interventions that can drastically reduce youth homelessness.

Most people know that homeless youth face immediate threats to their health and well-being — really, to their very survival. Understandably, most organizations working on this issue prioritize providing these youth with services they need to survive, and therefore have tremendous funding constraints. Doing the evaluation and research work needed to create a road map to truly end the youth homeless crisis takes a back seat to providing immediate services.

This is where Point Source Youth comes in. Our mission is to work in partnership to fund, implement, and measure three highly scalable interventions — family strengthening, short-term host homes, and rapid rehousing — to effectively engage at-risk young people and to drastically reduce youth homelessness. Point Source Youth does this for all youth but places a special emphasis on LGBTQ youth and youth of color because of their disproportionate representation in the homeless population. Importantly, we do not provide services ourselves; instead we partner with local service providers to help them fund, implement, and evaluate these three promising interventions.

Our organization and theory of change are not business as usual. We have adopted several principles that guide our work and help us do things differently. First, we are driven by research and data. We focus on those three interventions because they are scalable and have exciting preliminary indicators of successfully reducing the number of homeless youth in countries around the world and in several U.S. cities. They are not theories — they have demonstrated results but have not yet been adopted and need more rigorous data on their effectiveness and how they best integrate with existing systems.

Most importantly, Point Source Youth is working with leading evaluation experts and academics to make sure that the interventions are having impact and are being adapted to make them better. We are starting this year with a pilot project in Minneapolis, called the ConneQT Collaborative, together with three amazing partners — Avenues for Homeless Youth, the Link, and RECLAIM! — to make sure we get the three interventions right.

Second, our approach to paying for these three interventions reflects the complex and expensive nature of the problem we’re trying to solve. Point Source Youth believes that truly ending this crisis requires financial commitments from individuals, foundations, corporations, and public agencies. We believe that bringing together this diverse group of funders is the most sustainable and effective way to achieve our mission.

Third, we want to see long-term impacts. We at Point Source Youth realize our goal is ambitious, especially as we take on such a seemingly intractable problem in our country. But we feel it is too much of a crisis to not act. We need to prove what works and we then need to do more of it. We believe our unique approach focusing on the three interventions and on building the data and evaluation of what works and what doesn’t is fundamental to ending this crisis.

Equally important, we have deliberately designed our research-driven approach and finance model to enable us to learn which populations of youth these interventions work for and then help cities, towns, and rural communities fund them to scale.

Finally, throughout these three principles we have been deliberate to include opportunities for collaboration with the many advocacy organizations, service providers, academic experts, funders, and public agencies already working hard to support and save homeless youth. Point Source Youth has no intention of duplicating work already under way — instead, we want to work in partnership to increase the capacity and technical know-how of the field.

Failing in our mission means failing millions of youth who have nowhere to call home. We’re determined to come through for them. That’s what motivates us to work in solidarity with so many others already in the trenches and end this shameful crisis once and for all. 

Read the original article in The Advocate here.