A Louisville team has housed youths in 100 days, but there are still more than 100 in the city still needing homes.
As of today, the team had hit its target of housing 100 people between ages 16 and 24, which it started on Aug. 1. The goal represents an almost 500 percent improvement over the usual numbers of homeless Louisvillians getting housing, said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.
“We hope to exceed that goal in the coming week, and we still have more than 100 youth on the list who need to be housed, so there are still many ways the community can help,” she said.
The 100-Day Challenge is part of a national program to end youth homelessness, sponsored by A Way Home America. The organization chose Louisville as one of five cities — along with Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio, Hennepin County, Minn., and Palm Beach County, Fla. — to participate.
A group of about 20 people went to Baltimore to brainstorm ways to create a challenge here in Louisville. They had to choose a number of young adults to house — a number that would be possible, but difficult, Harris said.
They came back to Louisville energized but facing a daunting task. They worked with many organizations in the city to find new ways to find housing for people, and it didn’t always look like they’d meet their goal.
“When we first started, we just did the same things, but we did them faster,” said Harris. “That’s your inclination: to do what you always did.”
The group meets weekly to discuss successes and failures and try to find ways to help. One aspect that has made a huge difference, Harris said, is that 20 percent of the people involved are young adults who were recently homeless or older adults who were homeless in their youth.
“It’s a more authentic voice,” she said. “They have been key as we were designing solutions, such as which programs worked and which didn’t, and why.”
A big part of the strategy is that the group created a by-name list of homeless young adults in the Louisville area and listed the challenges each person faces in finding homes. The team will go through the list and try to help find a way to help each person.
“It’s all theoretical until you talk about people by name,” Harris said. “‘She needs someone to go to that meeting with her,’ or ‘She has a baby to watch,’ or ‘She needs transportation.’ People in the room step up and make it happen.”
A Success Story
Two beneficiaries of this work are Crystal Lovings, 19, and her son, Ben, 4 months. Lovings was very sick throughout her pregnancy, and now Ben has his own challenges, including a congenital heart defect. They moved into an apartment last week. On Monday, Ben will have heart surgery.
She works in a call center for the YMCA of Greater Louisville, and it’s a challenge to pay for childcare for Ben.
“I’m going to be off after his surgery, so I’m going to be struggling,” said Lovings. “But with this assistance, I know I’m going to be stable in this housing enough to get through his surgery and recovery.”
Lovings grew up in foster care, and when she aged out of the system, she got an apartment. Because she suffered a lot of complications during her pregnancy, she was in and out of the hospital a lot, and she lost her apartment.
She was homeless for about six months during her pregnancy. The YMCA’s Safe Place helped her find a maternity shelter, and she continued to work with the YMCA’s services.
Eventually, the Coalition for the Homeless was able to give her enough money for a deposit, and now she has an apartment. She still doesn’t have furniture, but she’s thrilled to have a safe home to care for her child.
Officer Jessica Morrison of the Louisville Metro Police also is working with the group to do outreach and help young adults. As a resource officer, she works with the community by doing things like business checks and event planning. But this program is a completely new way of policing.
“Say I’m under a bypass or a homeless camp: As a police officer, the first thing you think about is safety, so you pat people down with permission, you get their information, you hear through the radio they have a warrant, you take ’em to jail, or they have drugs, you take them to jail,” Morrison said. “But this aspect changes everything, because I still do all that stuff, but I find avenues of extra help with all these (organizations) in Jefferson County that I didn’t even know existed. It’s kind of amazing. … It’s eye-opening, and it’s kind of made me a better person, I think.”
Morrison has been working to create resources for police officers on the street so they can reach out to find help for people in need. She’s creating a form to give officers so they can help the Coalition and other agencies know about the people living on the street so they can reach out and get them services.
Others are already noticing a difference. Ariel Brooks, case manager for YMCA’s Safe Place Street Outreach, said Morrison’s efforts are helping bridge a gap between police and social workers.
“None of our kids really have a good relationship with police,” Brooks said. “Most social workers don’t have a good relationship with police for that matter, but (Morrison) has really changed the image for everybody working on this team. … Most of us see the police as the people who are arresting our clients and putting our clients in jail when we feel like they don’t need to be in jail. She’s really changed my perspective.”
Brooks said the 100-Day Challenge has been a great program to be involved in.
“It has been probably one of the most amazing efforts I’ve ever seen of this type,” she said. She was skeptical at first that the group would meet the goal because of the many roadblocks that are in place for getting young adults housed.
“I’ve been with Safe Place for three-and-a-half years, and I’ve gotten more kids houses in these 100 days than I have the entire time I’ve been at Safe Place,” she said. “And that’s because of the community effort to open up vouchers and to help fund deposits … those little things that are huge barriers for our young people. Literally, I’ve never seen so many kids get off the street.”
Unfortunately, the Street Outreach program where Brooks works is closing in December because of a lack of funding. Safe Place Street Outreach is the only program that does the foot-level work of looking for homeless kids and bringing them into the system to get them beds at shelters that are just for their age group, Brooks said.
Despite the closing of the Street Outreach, Brooks said she still has hope that the problem of youth homelessness can be solved. “My program is going to be gone, but at least there’s going to be systems-level changes,” she said.
Part of the success of the group is that there are so many different types of agencies working together, Brooks said. Along with agencies that house the homeless are the police and even the Louisville Free Public Library. Because many homeless people hang out at the library, a representative was picked to help the group.
The library has allowed the group to set up tables there to try to reach out to homeless youth.
While housing is the most immediate need, that’s only a quarter of the program, Harris said. The four main issues the group hopes to address are housing, employment, education and community support (including mental health services, how to manage on your own, etc.).
“Over half are minority youth, even though the general population are not more than half minority youth,” said Harris. “Over one-third are parenting or pregnant, and another third are LGBTQ. For whatever reasons, they may not be able to stay with family or friends anymore.”
Harris added that if you engage a homeless person before he or she turns 24, the chances of them living off public assistance for the rest of their lives goes way down.
“Our focus in the past has been on the chronically homeless, those with such extreme mental illness or chemical dependency that they can’t engage fully,” she said. “We’ve created a committee tied to employment opportunities with the Kentucky Career Center and working with Jefferson County Public Schools and other education programs to help them stay in school, or for those that have dropped out, get them back in school.
“I just keep thinking this is our future, and if we throw away this many young people in our community, then who’s gonna take care of us?” she said.
As for the Lovings, they are just trying to get past Monday’s surgery.
“We’re making it day by day,” Lovings said. “I’m just happy that I have stable housing over my head, and I’m good for at least a year with my son and his recovery from heart surgery. I’m really thankful for all the assistance that I’ve gotten. He can have a better life and future.”