The Upstream Project

Leading on youth homelessness and school dropout prevention

For many youth, experiences of housing instability co-occur with school instability. The loss of a home, whether experienced with their families or apart from their families, makes completing schoolwork and graduating from high school a challenge for any student. Research also shows that young people who did not complete high school are more likely to experience homelessness early in adulthood. For these reasons, it is important to address home and school instability together.

Unfortunately, in the United States, policies and services for youth and families experiencing homelessness mostly involve crisis response. They typically offer assistance after someone experiences homelessness or an immediate housing crisis. Additionally, there are no formal policies or services available to youth who have dropped out of school. In both instances, there are limited supports “upstream,” meaning before young people reach crisis, to prevent homelessness and school dropout.

Prevention involves a different kind of approach. Because no single system or institution can reach all youth and address the multiple causes of homelessness or school dropout, coordination is key. To this end, Chapin Hall is partnering with school systems and local organizations in a small number of U.S. communities to adapt, pilot, and evaluate the “Upstream” model. Upstream is the American adaptation of the Australian Geelong Project, which led to significant reductions in the number of adolescents (ages 12-18) entering the local homelessness system and dropping out of school.

Upstream involves establishing data-driven processes to identify students at risk for homelessness or dropping out of school, and to identify those already experiencing homelessness. The process starts with a screening survey that the school invites all students to take. If students report concerns related to home and school stability, the school system follows up, assesses students’ needs, and either provides supports or makes a referral to its community partner for flexible case management and counseling. Through Upstream, students and families are linked to a range of resources to meet their needs.

This place-based model connects schools and community services to provide support to young people and their families at high risk for homelessness or school dropout. In doing so, Upstream strengthens resilience and addresses risk factors before they escalate to crisis. This approach is building sustainable new community and family capacity.

Chapin Hall has conducted extensive research to determine the prevalence of and the conditions that lead to youth homelessness. Our experts include Policy Fellow Dr. Forrest Moore and Researcher Dr. Melissa Kull, who together with a broader team of researchers and policy experts build evidence to inform policy makers and practitioners on what works to prevent and end youth homelessness.

For more information on the U.S. adaptation of Upstream, please contact Forrest Moore or Melissa Kull.