Mayor de Blasio with the city's mental health plan (photo: Mike Appleton)
Recently there has been a great deal of interest in young adult supportive housing without time limits or age caps. We may be witnessing the beginning stages of a paradigm shift in which there is acknowledgement of developmental variations among youth. Both Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and United States Interagency Council on Housing (USICH) consider this as a potentially more effective approach to ending youth homelessness.
Traditionally, housing for youth has been transitional. Even when 'permanent supportive housing' is used, most programs involve length of stay limits (usually 18-24 months), and age caps meant to define true adulthood and capability to live independently without support services.
Transitional programs generally have fairly regimented guidelines with the expectation that "graduation" from the program will enable each youth to move into their own apartment and achieve self-sufficiency. However, many of these youths move in with family or friends "temporarily" or are admitted to another time-limited housing program based on their need of continued services. A large number of these youths/young adults are dealing with past trauma and may have special needs such as mental health and substance abuse issues making it difficult, if not impossible, to live independently.
At West End we believe non-time-limited affordable housing with support services onsite is another effective solution in the spectrum of services for homeless and formerly homeless youth. Our "True Colors" supportive housing programs for formerly homeless LGBT youth are new and innovative examples of this model.
Each residence consists of 30 studio apartments, community space, computer lab/resource library, and laundry facilities. West End staffs each with a program director, clinical case manager, and life skills training manager, along with 24-hour security and a live-in building superintendent.
While tenants must be 18-24 years old upon move-in, they may stay as long as they need or choose providing they comply with their rental lease agreement and basic house rules. Our service delivery involves trauma informed care and harm reduction techniques.
We chose this supportive housing model because we believe the development of independent living skills is an organic process unique to each individual and that arbitrary age and programmatic time frames do not define actual needs or abilities, especially for those who are severely traumatized by homelessness, family rejection, and loss of support.
The success of our residents speaks to the quality and appropriateness of the model. Of the original tenants at the True Colors Residence, which opened four years ago, well over half have moved on to fully independent affordable housing while others still in need of our services remain supportive housing tenants. Equally impressive is the noted decrease in substance abuse, down from 60% to 30%, as well as the reduction of unemployment from 40% to 20%.
The provision of supportive housing without time limits is an effective way to end homelessness for young adults - for more information the USICH webinar on the subject is a great resource. We are pleased by both the Mayor's and the Governor's commitment to increase the supply of supportive housing units and look forward to working with the City and State to provide housing and services for LGBT young adults in need.