Austin Leads Effort to End Youth Homelessness

Ten percent of the country’s homeless youth live in Texas.

By Joy DiazSeptember 5, 2016 11:37 am,

*Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that San Antonio is also part of this program.

About 10 percent of the country’s homeless youth live in Texas – that means more than 100,000 young people don’t have a steady place to live. Austin is one of three U.S. cities participating in a 100-day challenge to reduce a systemic aspect of youth homelessness.

The short-term challenge is part of a long-term goal by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to end all youth homelessness by 2020. The goal is to see what works in Austin, *Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio and apply that nationwide.

Susan McDowell, executive director of the non-profit group LifeWorks, is helping to lead the effort in Austin.

“We get to kickstart our effort by creating the momentum of bringing 16 community leaders and homeless youth themselves to identify one pressing problem that we, as system leaders, can put our heads together and just solve,” McDowell says. “The idea is that many times you create a plan around a community condition and that plan either gets implemented over a long period of time or sometimes it just sits on the shelf.”

McDowell says they will pick an issue to solve and solve it quickly.

“In doing so you create the relationships and the momentum to then do further work,” she says.

In Austin, McDowell says there is a growing population of homeless 18- to 24-year-olds. Their ages may legally count them as adults, but McDowell says developmentally, many of them are still considered youths. Many homeless youths still need to meet educational goals, like high school – and are still figuring out where they’re going to land in the workforce. A sizable number of youths have aged out of the foster-care system; they were never adopted and left the system at age 18 or 21.

McDowell says one of the major issues is violence. She says 70 percent of homeless youth report they are victims of violent crime while on the street.

Another main issue, McDowell says, is the lack of housing. Due to a low capacity in youth shelters, so many are ending up at adult shelters – which McDowell says is not the best place for them.

LifeWorks is looking at what they need to do to meet the housing need by studying new models – such as rapid rehousing – and adding more permanent support of housing with creative roommate situations. McDowell’s main focus centers around these potential solutions.

“How can we get really creative as a community to make sure that we not only get youth in housing that’s affordable but that it’s sustainable too,” she says.

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.