Artemis Fontaine, Researcher at the Youth Action Hub.
I was once homeless. Eighteen years old in the dead of winter, all my belongings in my car – everything I needed daily in the front seat, all my clothes in the backseat, everything else I needed in the trunk, and the rest of it in a box in my mom’s closet. Needless to say, it was hard. Holy heck, it was hard. I met a lot of people in a similar situation while I was floating around from house to house struggling to get enough to eat, constantly looking for work I could hold down while trying to keep it secret that everything I held truly dear lived in my glove compartment. And with those people who knew my secret, the ones who were struggling like I was, I realized some of the most powerful camaraderie was borne of our shared struggles.
I never knew about all the resources that were available to me, and had I known, I might not have struggled so much during those months. I began learning about these resources in 2015 when I joined the Youth Action Hub (YAH) as a researcher. YAH is a center of research and advocacy run by Dr. Heather Mosher at the Institute for Community Research. The Hub is staffed by people my age (16-24 years old) and we are trained as action researchers so that the voices of young people are included in research and policy advocacy around youth homelessness in Connecticut. YAH uses Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), a collaborative approach to investigate social issues with youth who have directly experienced that issue trained as co-researchers. When I joined YAH a year ago, our research focused on understanding and improving young people’s access to information and housing-related services in Connecticut.
When I came to work at the Institute for Community Research, I realized I was not the only one who had struggled, and I was being given an opportunity to give back alongside some of the people who had experienced similar troubles as me. Researching the services in CT that allow people to access the help they need was eye-opening, and I immediately wished someone had been working to make sure I was being taken care of back when I was going through homelessness. Each of us sitting around the conference room table felt a personal connection to the work, each knowing a person - or a younger version of ourselves - that could benefit from improving youth access to housing and service information in our state, and even nationally.
We would never have been able to accomplish any of this without the meeting of the minds that went into our work with the Youth Action Hub on this project. Having such a diverse group of people who have had individual experiences of instability and difficulty with housing and services allowed us to gain a truly unique perspective overall. And that gave us a way to design our study with youth in mind, so that the youth of tomorrow will never know the struggles of today.
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