In June of 2016, the Youth Action Hub held a meeting with key stakeholders across Connecticut to share their research findings. Artemis stood at the front of the conference room, leading a presentation on how youth experiencing homelessness in Connecticut find information and resources to get help. The audience, which included the Commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Housing, listened intently and took notes.
But for Artemis, a researcher with the Youth Action Hub (YAH), this work is anything but academic. Two years ago she was homeless herself, bouncing from couch to couch, and eventually in the dead of winter, sleeping in her car.
Artemis was one of the roughly 3,000 young people in Connecticut who don’t have a safe and stable place to call home. As a queer-identified youth, her experiences mirror those of 40% of youth experiencing homelessness. And like her peers, she is resilient. With housing and services, she was able to go to school and work to support herself.
What is the Youth Action Hub?
The Youth Action Hub is a center of research and advocacy comprised of dedicated youth and young adult researchers between the ages of 16-24 from the greater Hartford area. Founded in 2015 by Dr. Heather Mosher at the Institute for Community Research, in partnership with the Center for Children’s Advocacy and the Trust, the Hub is housed within the Institute for Community Research, a Hartford-based nonprofit organization that helps communities and organized groups advocate for community change through research. The Hub uses Youth Participatory Action Research, a collaborative approach with youth trained as co-researchers and taking a leadership role in investigating social issues that directly affect their lives. Through conducting original research, YAH members hope to help other young people who are struggling to survive without a home like they once did.
Original Research by and for Youth
What do young people who experience homelessness want and need from an information and referral system?
What are easy and youth-friendly ways for young people to access information and services?
Connecticut has a robust 211 information and referral helpline for residents needing assistance locating basic services such as food, housing, child or elder care, or crisis intervention.
Yet more than 50% of young people have no idea that this important tool even exists.
And a lack of awareness is not the only barrier to using 211:
- Many young people said that they would not use a helpline to get information or help.
- Youth felt strongly that current services and providers can be impersonal, and that when they are in crisis what they need most is guidance and support. They want the opportunity to meet with someone face to face because they found it difficult to build trust with a stranger over the phone.
- Young people prefered to talk with someone that they know (friends, peers, teachers, guidance counselors, mentors, or other people that they trust and interact with regularly). However, these people do not typically have the information or knowledge needed to help the young person access resources.
These are the kinds of key insights that YAH is uncovering in their original research. Using an approach which looks at both quantitative and qualitative data, YAH conducted six group interviews with a total of 27 participants, including those involved with the criminal justice system, young parents, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. They also distributed an online survey to an additional 164 individuals.
Putting Research into Action
Already, the findings and recommendations of the YAH have been shared with Connecticut’s Department of Housing Commissioner, Evonne Klein, and the members of the statewide Reaching Home campaign to end homelessness in Connecticut.
- Based on the learning that young people—especially youth under 18—are reluctant to use the 211 system, the YAH is working closely with the Reaching Home campaign partners to create multiple access points (training of staff in physical locations where youth spend time, such as schools, community centers, libraries, and other youth organizations) instead of requiring young people to go through 211 to get help.
- And based on the finding that young people really need face-to-face relationship building and follow-up to make sure that they are getting the help that they need, YAH is working with the Reaching Home campaign partners to set-up Youth Navigators around the state to follow-up with young people and improve their access to services.
This type of youth-adult partnership is crucial. By examining specific barriers that young people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut face in accessing information and services, YAH is providing our state with key data to design an information and referral system that that will truly work for youth.
New Research on Rapid Re-housing for Youth
In 2017 the Youth Action Hub expanded their role and began conducting evaluation research of a rapid re-housing model for young adults in Connecticut. Nationally, rapid re-housing for youth is seen as a promising practice, but there are significant gaps in knowledge about the long-term impact of the intervention on young people’s lives as well as on the return on investment for communities. The Youth Action Hub’s research will help to provide critical data to the field about this intervention.
The Youth Action Hub is also serving as the youth advisory board for HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project in Connecticut, a $6.6 million federal grant to help support the state’s goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020.
The Trust’s Role
The Trust’s support of Youth Action Hub’s work has helped to build an infrastructure that supports and sustains youth-adult partnerships and provides a vehicle for impactful youth voice in ending youth homelessness in Connecticut. The evolution of their work and potential national implications of their research is exciting and promises to be a model for other efforts to end youth homelessness.
YOUTH ACTION HUB MEMBERS:
DIRECTOR AND FACILITATOR
Heather Mosher, PhD, Research Scientist, Institute for Community Research