By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Homelessness among young adults can sometimes be solved with a simple hand-up that has the potential to break the cycle of poverty, say organizers of a new initiative.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Home of the Innocents have a plan designed for people age 24 and younger. St. Vincent de Paul will provide short-term housing on its campus while the young people apply for an apartment through Home of the Innocents. During this time, they’ll receive assistance with employment and education.
“We know from national research that when young people can get engaged with education and jobs by the age of 26 that they’ll be less likely to live off government subsidies for the rest of their life. So this is an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty,” said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.
Harris said among young adults there are predominantly three groups that tend to experience homelessness — minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and pregnant and parenting teens. These groups tend to be discriminated against and find it hard to obtain and keep a job, she said.
The new initiative, set to begin in November, is being adopted in cities around the nation thanks to a new federal grant. The city of Louisville was one of 11 to receive the grant from the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
At St. Vincent de Paul’s campus on South Preston Street, young adults experiencing homelessness will be quickly placed for the short-term in a house that has 24 individual rooms and two communal living spaces, said Jennifer Clark, who leads the project for St. Vincent de Paul.
There will be a staff person in the building 24 hours a day to assist them, said Clark.
“It’s a safe, healthy place for young adults to stay until they get to true permanent housing,” she said during a recent interview.
Home of the Innocents will handle the application process for apartments. Though there’s not a set time frame for the young adults to move into permanent housing, Clark said the goal is to get them there as soon as possible.
Joe Hamilton, who is coordinating the effort for Home of the Innocents, estimates the grant will pay for apartments for about 40 young people for up to two years. He has requested that HUD extend this to 36 months in certain cases.
“If the young adult has lots of barriers, the last thing we want to do is kick them out early,” he said. “The hope is that through stable housing other needs and barriers can be eliminated and they’re back on their feet and able to sustain housing on their own and just have a better playing field for moving forward.”
While the young people are in the program, they will receive assistance and support to develop the skills they need to find employment and become independent, organizers said.
They will have caseworkers to help guide them toward goals, such as earning a high school diploma. And employment specialists will help them find work.
Clark said it’s “exciting” to witness how young people “blossom” when they can find housing and have support.
“I know this makes a difference for people. … I can’t wait to see what a difference we make in their lives,” she said.
Clark noted that homeless young adults usually have children, so she anticipates serving young families.
Harris, of the Coalition for the Homeless, believes the new program will save lives.
The new program will provide young people with a “safe and secure” space.
“It’s huge for people to get off the streets. It’ll save lives,” said Harris.
To qualify for the program the young adult cannot be with their parents, and must be living on the street or have a 14-day eviction notice, said Harris.
Overall, she noted, the number of homeless young adults in the city has gone down in the last few years, due in part to a 2017 initiative called the “100-day challenge.” The initiative aimed to find housing for 100 young people in the same number of days.
The project ended up finding housing for 115 individuals, said Harris.
That cut the number of homeless young adults in half — there were about 230 in 2017, said Harris. Right now, there are 72 homeless young adults the coalition knows about, said Harris.
Minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and pregnant and parenting teens are a large percentage of that number.
LGBTQ young adults “are kicked out of their home and discriminated against and find it hard to get work,” said Harris.
Pregnant and parenting teens suffer the same fate and find it challenging to stay employed while parenting.
Harris also noted that the number of minorities who experience homelessness is high.
Half of the young adults who are currently homeless are minorities, she said.
“We see that the number of minorities who are homeless is not going down,” said Harris. This is due in part to “discriminatory practices” which makes it harder for minorities to find housing,” she added.