The Importance of our Southern Symposium on Solutions to End Youth Homelessness

I was born and raised in the south. I grew up visiting horse farms, going to Winn-Dixie with my mom, and driving past trailer parks on the way. The area started to change as I got older and more developers arrived- removing trees, farms, parks, and replacing them with little houses that looked the same. When I turned 16, I started venturing into Atlanta, the nearest city to me. I will never forget the first day I tagged along with some friends to go downtown. I was mesmerized, excited, and a little scared – but I loved it. Exploring the city where I could figure out so many new things about life and about myself was monumental to who I am today.

 

Later in life, I started working at an LGBTQ shelter for youth and young adults in Atlanta. I remember seeing the same look of excitement, fear, and exploration on the faces of young people I was serving. Atlanta is a hub for youth experiencing homelessness, especially those who identify as LGBTQ. We had many young folks from neighboring southern states who were looking for more resources and more acceptance than where they came from. We had many young people who were from rural areas, but also many that were from the city itself. Almost all of these young folx were dealing with generational poverty and generational homelessness. They were working against systems that marginalized them – racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, low wages, no affordable housing, lack of resources for physical and mental health, a lack of childcare, and minimally accessible transportation. Countless were from the foster care system or had experience with the criminal justice systems. They were doing everything they could to improve their lives in the face of all of these challenges – and my job, from the moment I started working in youth homelessness, was to follow their lead, empower them, and work as hard as I could with others to remove the systematic barriers of our community.

 

Throughout my career – working from case manager to Director of Programs of the LGBTQ shelter, moving to LGBTQ & HIV advocacy groups, to City of Atlanta’s Continuum of Care, and on to Point Source Youth – I found that the fight to end youth homelessness, no matter the organization, takes three things: strong community organizing, advocacy, and building coordinated resources for young folx WITH young folx. This included creating systems that worked collaboratively and spoke to one another. In order to be effective, we have to include faith-based communities, who are doing so much work on the ground and providing resources where others could not. We have to work with organizations that are serving people living with HIV and work on more housing. We have to work with landlords, community leaders, lawyers, universities, foster care, advocates, shelters, foundations, criminal justice, reproductive rights leaders, faith leaders, and lawmakers. 

Although this is not unique to the south or to rural areas – what feels different is where we have to start. Sometimes advocacy work in the south feels like swimming up a waterfall. There is so much to tackle in order to get our systems to better serve young people experiencing homelessness. This why I am so excited about the Southern Symposium on Solutions to End Youth Homelessness happening in Atlanta this September. Atlanta has a strong history of civil rights, advocacy, and fighting for what is right. Watching advocates and young folx step into the paths that were created for them by great southern civil rights leaders gives me so much hope. Creating a space to specifically bring passionate folks who are in this fight for liberation together is the reason behind the symposium. Being able to talk through these barriers and share with one another specifically how people are working to overcome them in the South is monumental to this fight. The Southern Symposium being in Atlanta is intentional. This has always been a place for people to come together. We at Point Source Youth are so excited to join you in this work and to create a space for liberation and change - for the south, by the south. I hope as you explore this work deeper and explore this city, you feel as I did, mesmerized, excited, a little scared, and I really hope y’all love it.

—Brittany Garner, Associate Director, Rural

Colin McSwiggen