It’s hard enough growing up in the world even with a supportive family and plenty of access to resources. Can you imagine how difficult the journey must be for homeless and high-risk youth?
Each individual youth has their own complex and diverse set of obstacles, yet all homeless youth share the experience of exposure to trauma as a common thread. Social service providers may lose hope and become frustrated with the process of serving homeless youth and ultimately feel unsuccessful.
Due to this common dilemma service providers face in assisting this population, the Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation agreed upon nine evidence-based guiding principles in helping homeless youth overcome homelessness:
- Journey Oriented: Recognizing that everyone is on a journey and conveying that message to the client. It is helping them to see a future and they get to choose what they will create.
- Trauma-Informed: All staff that have contact with clients need to be trauma trained as to be more successful and to not inflict any additional traumatic experiences for the youth.
- Non-Judgmental: To make sure that clients know they will receive services and support regardless of their past, present, or future choices. This creates trust and openness.
- Harm Reduction: Help clients to minimize risky behaviors in the short and long-term scenarios. This means understanding that risky behaviors do not go away over night, but an emphasis on working towards reduction.
- Trusting Youth-Adult Relationships: It is important to have integrity and build trust with clients because you might be the only safe adult relationship they have ever had, and in order to receive help, the client must first trust the adult.
- Strengths-Based: Many homeless youth have a multitude of extraordinary survival skills, resiliency factors, or positive character traits to be focused on and used as a foundation.
- Positive Youth Development: Creating opportunities for clients to be empowered on their own.
- Holistic: Recognize and help youth recognize the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. This would include mind, body, spirit, environment, and social factors. Seeing the big picture can help frame the issues as well as the course of action to take.
- Collaboration: No one can meet the complex needs of homeless youth. Connecting with other agencies and resources helps create the support necessary for ending homelessness and improving their quality of life.
These principles can benefit other troubled youth who may not be particularly homeless, yet face similar difficulties due to varying levels of trauma experienced in their life. As a past runaway myself, I can confirm the validity of these principles and the impact they can have on homeless youth.
Feeling scared, desperate, and failed, I could not accept many attempts to receive support. Children do not become homeless because everything is going great. It happens as a result of great hardships, trauma, and events that take a life time to overcome. If trust and hope can be instilled into the hopeless hearts of traumatized human beings, then support and ultimately success can become an option where they once were not.
For more information on the evidence behind these principles and an overview of case studies visit: http://www.terralunacollaborative.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/9-Evidence-Based-Principles-to-Help-Youth-Overcome-Homelessness-Webpublish.pdf
Robin Rivera serves as the in-house researcher and trainer for Runaway Girl, FPC., where they are currently invested in sustainable community-based responses to the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).