New Opportunities: The Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative

Chapin Hall launches comprehensive prevention strategy

We cannot end youth homelessness until we prevent it. That’s why Chapin Hall has launched a four-phase initiative to continue momentum and action to prevent youth homelessness in the United States. This work is guided by a vision of equity and rooted in the understanding that sustainable solutions require the empowered participation of young people, a reliance on research evidence, and consideration of multiple systems that address youth well-being. This initiative builds on Chapin Hall’s comprehensive body of research and strategic priority to end youth homelessness.

We created the Preventing Youth Homelessness Learning Collaborative to develop a national strategy to address structural inequities and compounding risks for homelessness at multiple levels and systems.

Our approach is based on a public health model of prevention. The Collaborative includes four working groups focused on four levels of prevention:

Level One: Prevent (unequal) risk. This requires an examination of the deeply embedded structural inequities that set the stage for disproportionate risk among subgroups of young people and in particular communities.

Level Two: Prevent risk from leading to crisis. We know that there are thousands of young people who are at risk for homelessness. If we can identify youth risks and assets across the systems they come into contact with, we will be better equipped to help youth avoid the pathways to homelessness.

Level Three: Prevent crisis from becoming homelessness. Youth pathways to homelessness are characterized by high levels of adversity, sometimes leading to crisis: a family disruption, unstable housing circumstances (couch surfing), being asked to leave the home of a friend or family member due to conflict or rejection.

Level Four: Ensure that homelessness is brief and non-reoccurring.  Within the current policy structure, there are ample crisis supports available, yet we have little evidence on how young people reach sustainable exits from homelessness. There are as-yet unexplored opportunities to help young people through affirming supports and a realistic menu of housing approaches.

In this effort we are bringing together experts in the fields of justice, mental/behavioral health, housing, education, child welfare, and youth development, among others. Young adults with lived expertise in homelessness and housing insecurity are co-leading the working groups.

Levels of homelessness prevention: Adapted from Frieden (2010)

The work is happening in four phases across two years.

Phase One: Curate and translate research and related materials that can inform working group discussions.

Phase Two: Lead a convening of working groups and produce the first draft of the national strategy.

Phase Three: Develop products to reach different audiences concerned with youth well-being. These audiences will include young people, policymakers, scholars, service providers, and system leaders.

Phase Four: Embed prevention strategy in systems through coordinated, multiple efforts. During this phase, we will name an Ending Youth Homelessness fellow or fellows to work within the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) or other federal agencies. Further, we hope to sustain the Preventing Youth Homelessness Learning Community.

Chapin Hall has long provided national leadership on what works to prevent and end youth homelessness. Our seminal multi-component research project, Voices of Youth Count (VoYC), was a comprehensive examination of youth homelessness and incorporated youth voices to develop achievable solutions. The VoYC study revealed broad and hidden challenges within youth homelessness.

The VoYC work illuminated the challenges of housing stability and its ripple effects as “missed opportunities” not only for the affected young people, but also for their entire communities. We learned that that youth homelessness is fluid and has many pathways. Youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented. The experiences that precede homelessness, and homelessness itself, are traumatic and stressful. With this project, we aim to move on to new opportunities for youth, working to prevent disruption in their lives by ensuring housing stability and affirming supports that enable them to focus their energies to aspiration and growth.

The New Opportunities Project is led by Chapin Hall’s Director of Research Dr. Anne Farrell,  with a team that includes Project Associate Alesha Alexcee, Associate Researcher Angela Garza, Research Fellow Dr. Matthew Morton, Policy Fellow Dr. Forrest Moore, and Senior Researcher Dr. Angeline Spain.

Funders of the New Opportunities Initiative include the Raikes Foundation, Pohlad Family Foundation, Campion Advocacy Fund, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Andrus Family Fund, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Family Youth Services Bureau, an office of the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

For more information about the New Opportunities Initiative, contact Angela Garza.