mk Eagle, Guest Contributor
Most of us have never started our day wondering where we would sleep that night. We’ve never had to choose between paying rent and buying food or diapers. Never come home after an argument to find that the locks have been changed. Never sought refuge under an overpass or in a stranger’s car. But for young people all over our city, these struggles are an everyday reality.
In 2016, there were 443 homeless young adults (age 18-24) in Louisville, plus an additional 450 youth below age 18 served by YMCA Safe Place Services, for a total of 893 unaccompanied homeless youth. Louisville Metro has also identified 21,000 “disconnected youth” who are not engaged in education or employment. These young adults are equally in need of services in order to protect their own future opportunities, as well as lowering long-term costs to our community.
We know that failing to address the needs of homeless youth actually leads to higher future costs. The largest burdens on taxpayers are the effects of crime and lost earnings. The estimated annual cost for those 443 homeless young adults in Louisville is $15,782,835, which does not include what their own children will cost our community if we do not invest in these young parents’ futures. The likelihood of a lifetime of government assistance for young adults increases exponentially if their needs are not addressed by the age of 24.
Strategic intervention for even a few of these young adults can drastically impact the cost to our community. Getting our disconnected youth to a place of stability – and particularly economic self-sufficiency – can help cover the costs of other youth in crisis and avoid millions in expenditures.
On Aug. 1, the Coalition for the Homeless and a team of local service providers and community leaders launched the 100-Day Challenge, a project designed to stimulate intense collaboration, innovation, and execution, all in pursuit of an ambitious goal to house at least 100 homeless youth and young adults in Louisville by Nov. 8, 2017.
100-Day Challenges are part of a growing national movement to prevent and end youth homelessness in America. In Austin, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, 413 young people exited homelessness and were housed in just 100 days—exceeding those cities’ original goals.
Rapid progress and rapid change typically go hand in hand. We hope that this goal will inspire everyone – from community leaders to everyday citizens – to do their work differently, question assumptions about the systems they participate in, and think more innovatively.
Over the past several years, Louisville Metro has been successful in lowering the number of chronic street homeless and homeless veterans within our community through concerted efforts and funding for housing targeted to these populations.
Focusing on life-changing services versus meeting basic needs is the key to intervention and long-lasting success. We know that our compassionate city is filled with resources for struggling young adults, but we also know that the current system can be overwhelming to navigate.
Ways for members of the community to get involved and help our city reach the 100-Day Challenge goal include donating to Rx: Housing to fund deposits and furniture, hiring or mentoring a homeless or disconnected young person, and advocating for more funding for the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In addition, landlords can rent housing to a homeless person with a voucher and supportive services by contacting John Miles with the Office of Resilience and Community Services.
The 100-Day Challenge is also on Facebook (keepit100louisville) and a crowd funding website called YouCaring for those who wish to donate directly to the challenge.
Homelessness does not have to define the course of a young person’s life. Members of our Youth Advisory Board—young people who were once homeless themselves—now work, go to school, and raise their own children in safe, stable housing. They’ve dedicated their time and talent to the 100-Day Challenge. What will your commitment be?
mk Eagle is a library programs supervisor for the Louisville Free Public Library, Main Branch, and is the co-leader of the 100-Day Challenge Team.