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'Fear of ending up on the street.' Easing Cape, Islands youth homelessness goal of plan

by Rachael Devaney, as seen in the Cape Cod Times, March 19, 2024

During high school, Beans, 24, was terrified that the family members he lived with would discover he identifies as queer. As a queer person, he said, it's difficult to find supportive and safe spaces to live.

"I had a great fear of ending up on the street," said Beans, who currently lives in a room at a Cape-based transitional housing facility.

With the help of a guidance counselor at a school he didn't identify, Beans briefly moved in with his mother and found stability in 2017. But he became at risk for homelessness again after his mother was diagnosed with a medical condition that made it impossible for her to work. While Beans got a job, he said he couldn't keep up with the bills and his family was evicted in 2018.

Beans thinks his gender identity and mental health status affected his ability to find safe and affordable housing. Minorities from all facets of life, he said, feel pressure associated with housing insecurity.

He chooses to use one name to protect his privacy.

"Race, gender, sexuality, religion are things we can't control — things people don't always know how to react to," he said. "Homelessness is an intense experience that nobody should have to face."

Photo: Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times
Photo: Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times

In a 2018 survey across Massachusetts

According to a 2018 state community needs assessment survey, there were 1,080 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts on a single night. These youth and young adults didn't have a stable place to live either because their home wasn't safe, wasn't supportive or didn't exist, according to the survey.

Black youth and young adults were four times more likely to experience homelessness compared to the overall population; and Latino youth and young adults are 2.5 times more likely to experience homelessness, according to the survey.

Statewide, the survey said 24% of all youth and young adults experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+.

On Cape Cod

The numbers are staggering said Continuum of Care Manager Daniel Gray, who works in the Barnstable County Department of Human Services.

In February 2024, $2.4 million was awarded to Cape and Islands homelessness programs as part of its annual Continuum of Care Competition Awards.

In February 2022, a $1.4 million Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program grant was awarded to the Cape and Islands area as well.

The combination of funding, said Gray, is paving the way for change.

Barnstable County was one of only 17 communities selected to receive the youth homelessness demonstration program grant, said Gray.

While there's "a lot of upstream work to do," he said the coordinated care plan is intended to deliver the services and resources needed to alleviate youth and young adult housing insecurity.

What is the Hopeful Homes plan?

The Continuum of Care program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is a major source of federal money for those experiencing homelessness in any demographic, said Gray. The state demonstration program grant, however, was instrumental in funding Hopeful Homes: Sea Change for the Cape and Islands Youth and Young Adults.

Homeless Prevention Council Youth Outreach Worker Amanda Hutchinson said Hopeful Homes was created to end homelessness for youth and young adults. The continuum of care plan, released in February, was compiled by 80 homeless prevention stakeholders from across the Cape, including a Youth Action Board comprised of young people who have experienced housing insecurity and homelessness.

What was the contribution of the Youth Action Board?

Youth advocates challenged assumptions, stereotypes, and biases about youth homelessness and collaborated to develop solutions, said Homeless Prevention Council Chief Executive Officer Hadley Luddy.

"They were actively involved with looking at identified needs and coming up with services that could support young adults in our community," said Luddy.

Throughout the Hopeful Homes planning process, Gray said, members of the youth board helped identify seven goals, including system improvement and transformation, prevention and early intervention, safe and stable housing, health and well-being, education and employment, community connections and equity.

The youth board also participated in needs assessment periods and helped to define what young people need when they are experiencing housing instability.

For example, said Gray, homeless prevention advocates were donating items such as mittens to young adult program sites because they could be used during the colder months.

The young people appreciated the mittens, "but they really needed food, water and toilet paper," said Gray.

The idea to include young people in the Hopeful Homes process stemmed from federal Housing and Urban Development officials, Gray said. They recognized young people experience housing instability and homelessness and engage in the system differently than older adults, he said.

What do youth and young adult homelessness and housing insecurity look like?

Many young adults double up with family or friends and couch surf, said Homeless Prevention Council Manager of Youth and Young Adult Services Mary O'Reilly. Others live in their cars, and some live in hotels. There are also young adults who live at home but are experiencing some kind of domestic violence or conflicts that make housing unstable, she said.

In other situations, young people who have recently turned 18 are forced to leave by their parents or guardians, said O'Reilly.

There are also situations where a parent or guardian is sick or passed away, said Hutchinson.

"When something happens to immediate family members, their sense of stability is completely taken away," she said.

Beans has faced several of these scenarios, and also lived in a group home between 2021 and 2023 and briefly spent time in a mental health program. Mental health and homelessness often "goes hand-in-hand," he said.

"It's hard to get on your feet and move forward," he said. "It can be really scary."

Why prevention can end youth homelessness

Outreach workers at the Homeless Prevention Council, founded in 1991, help clients of all ages find solutions for unstable housing, said Luddy. They can help address financial security and workforce challenges and formulate long-term plans for success to avoid homelessness altogether.

"Our message back to the community is to hear from you sooner rather than later," said Luddy. "We want to connect ahead of time to work on a plan to be sure you can stay on the Cape."

There's money available to help young people at risk for homelessness remain housed where they are, or to help find housing that's more stable, she said.

What is a mobile outreach program?

The Homeless Prevention Council is debuting its mobile youth outreach program, which was born through Hopeful Homes and will feature a van that will travel across the Cape and Islands. Beginning this spring, said Hutchinson, the van will visit colleges, outreach centers, resource fairs, health centers and events. Outreach workers aboard the van will focus on youth and young adults and raise awareness about what youth homelessness looks like and the stigmas associated with it.

"It will be a great way to connect with people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk for experiencing homelessness and don’t necessarily realize they are eligible for assistance," she said.

Community is key, says Beans

Since June 2023, Beans said he's found stability and safety on the Cape because of who he has chosen to surround himself with. He lives among other young adults who have struggled with housing instability, and together, they work on creating better futures for themselves.

"For me, there is power in numbers," said Beans. "It feels very powerful to be part of something that’s bigger than myself. It reinforces the idea that I have nothing to be ashamed of. We are trying our best. And recognizing that our best is enough."

Rachael Devaney writes about community and culture. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter: @RachaelDevaney.

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