Boston Hosting Summit to Address Youth Homelessness Problem

Several agencies will convene to figure out how to drive down the number of young people that don't have a place to live.

Massachusetts offers a lot of options and services to the homeless youth population statewide, but officials that oversee some of those programs say there are gaps between agencies that need to be mended in order to address the full scope of the issue.

“Historically we haven’t had a good grasp on how many youth [in Boston and Massachusetts] are homeless, and what services they are turning to for help,” says Liz Rogers, executive director of the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness. “A huge effort has been made to do a better count, and to identify and find what their needs are to provide better assistance.”

On Thursday, Rogers will meet with several other city and state agencies to further tackle the question of what they could do to help more young people who are part of the homeless population during the first Boston Youth Homelessness Summit.

Hosted by Bank of America and the Massachusetts chapter of United Way of America, a panel of experts will offer remarks on the “chronic and growing issue of youth homelessness” seen through recent studies and how that problem can be combated. “The idea is there are a lot of [organizations] that touch a piece of the issue of youth homelessness, but this is a chance to bring everyone together around the topic,” says Mike Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The mix of service providers statewide is pretty broad. This summit can help us get ideas about identifying more effectively what [young people need], and how we can engage them and get them to services that best fit those needs.”

According to Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, a group that conducted its first-ever “Youth Count” this year, there are roughly 200 unaccompanied homeless youth and young adults across multiple service sites in Boston. On a state level, in 2011, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimated more than 44,000 homeless students enrolled in Massachusetts public schools.

Over the last six months, there has been a statewide commission, established through legislation signed by Governor Patrick last year, trying to develop an action plan, particularly for youth under 18.

Durkin says until half a decade ago, many agencies and organizations were doing a good job of moving people out of shelters and into a more “stable situation,” but as the recession hit, it took an “incredibly big whack,” and there is no reason to think it got any easier for young people without a home. “A lot of organizations touch a piece of this issue, doing this and that, but there is a gap and a things fall between the cracks. So we are bringing all the parties together to cover those cracks,” says Durkin.

Rogers agreed, adding that she hopes the meet-up will foster organizational growth, and lead to new avenues for addressing the issue. “There is a lack of clarity around these individuals, and this is a chance for a dialogue with a lot of stakeholders, including funders and governmental agencies,” she says.