On Tuesday, August 18th, 2020, the Reaching Home Campaign’s Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Taskgroup (YYA Taskgroup) hosted, “The State of Youth Homelessness in Connecticut: Impact of COVID-19 & Implications for the Work Ahead.” Eliza McNamara from the group Youth to Lead Change emceed the event.
Approximately 88 people joined the convening to hear from youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and housing instability in Connecticut about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting them and their access to services and supports.
The event commenced with an overview of CT’s successes to date in addressing youth homelessness by Katie Durand from the Connecticut Department of Housing. This was followed by a presentation from Carline Charmelus, Partnership from Strong Communities, and Marina Marmolejo, Dreamkit & Youth Continuum, outlining the findings from two surveys conducted by the YYA Taskgroup- one asking youth directly about their experiences and one asking Youth Navigators about the experiences they are seeing in the youth they work with.
Out of the 25 youth survey participants, 88% reported not currently being housed. The majority of the respondents noted they were currently staying in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation. 72% of the respondents self-identified as black and African American. Overall, the majority of the respondents noted their need for support and services worsened due to COVID. When asked what they needed to improve their current well-being, respondents cited a need for the following: a place to live long-term & short-term, financial assistance, counseling and mental health services, a place to shower and do laundry, and more.
Youth Navigators who work closely with youth and young adults experiencing homelessness were also asked about their clients' current needs as a result of COVID-19. The majority of the Youth Navigators noted the following needs: financial assistance, a place to live long-term, and transportation. They also reported an increase in the need for housing services, mental health, technology, food, domestic violence, and substance use.
Two-panel conversations followed the presentation of survey findings. The first panel consisted of panelists of youth and young adults who shared their feedback and perspectives on the survey findings and further discussed barriers and struggles youth experiencing homelessness face as a result of COVID. The panel was moderated by Angel Cotto, Research Supervisor, Youth Action Hub at the Institute for Community Research (ICR) and five young people with lived experience. Speakers included:
- Kiara Monjarrez, Youth to Lead Change, Fairfield County CAN
- Alex Keith, Youth Partner, Youth Action Hub - ICR (Hartford)
- Tania Banks, Youth Action Hub, ICR (Hartford)
- Veronica Wells, & Andre Diaz, Youth Advisory Board, Greater New Haven CAN
The discussion was extremely powerful. The social stigma behind homelessness, impact of racism on the overall minds/hearts/well-being of young people of color, need for mental health and substance abuse services, and employment supports came through strongly.
The second panel, moderated by Stacey Violante Cote, Center for Children’s Advocacy, shared national and statewide perspectives on youth experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Speakers included:
- Sherilyn Adams, Larkin Street Youth Services
- Megan Gibbard Kline, A Way Home America
- Angel Cotto, Youth Action Hub at the Institute for Community Research
- Kathy Allen, Thames River Community Service, Inc.
- Zoe Melendez, Young Adult Housing Navigator, Triangle Community Center
The event concluded with an overview of priority areas of work for statewide advocacy through the YYA Taskgroup, group breakout sessions to discuss pressing resource and policy needs in light of the pandemic, and a brief discussion around the next steps. Attendees were asked to contact Carline Charmelus at Carline@pschousing.org if they would like to get more engaged to prevent and end youth homelessness in CT.