Home Youth service Local Agencies Receive $ 1 Million Annual Grant to ‘Change the Game’ to Address Youth Homelessness

Local Agencies Receive $ 1 Million Annual Grant to ‘Change the Game’ to Address Youth Homelessness


ITHACA, NY — Helping the homeless in Ithaca is an ever-evolving effort, seemingly demanding more resources as Tompkins County continues to present itself as a stronghold for those seeking social services in the area.

These efforts received unprecedented momentum last month, as the Tompkins County Continuum of Care received a historic annual grant of $ 1 million to be used to help the local homeless youth population in a variety of ways. Tompkins County is one of 33 communities nationwide that have been selected to receive annual funding, and even local officials were taken by surprise when told.

“It’s a competitive bid, it’s a tough bid,” said Liddy Bargar, director of housing initiatives for the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County. “When we submitted it, I hit send and thought, ‘Well, that was a good exercise.’ I didn’t really have high hopes in our selection.

Bargar said the grant represents a significant percentage increase over the regular funding that is spent each year for homeless youth in Tompkins County. During the launch call in October, Homebase’s Nora Lally – one of the main people charged with helping local authorities implement the plans – explained that the initial grant (in fact just under $ 2 million of dollars, at $ 1,996,523) will be spread over the first two years, and is renewable annually at just under $ 1 million thereafter through the federal government.

“This is in addition to our guaranteed money which we know is coming into our community on an ongoing basis,” said Bargar. “This allows us to have sustainable projects. We can pilot things, and if we find that they work, we actually have a way to support those projects. And if they don’t work, we can replace them with something.

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The money, provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, comes without too many strings attached – there is oversight, but Lally said the money is designed to stay in the community for the long term if a municipality is selected in the program. The goals, although somewhat vague, of the Homeless Youth Demonstration Program are for communities to create a “coordinated community plan to prevent and end homelessness”, expand the capacity of existing programs and to pilot new models of assistance and support, to create cross-system partnerships and to create a “natural momentum” to prevent and end homelessness among young people.

“You didn’t need to know what you were going to do with the funding, we didn’t need to have projects ready or dollar amounts,” Bargar explained in October, when the award was presented. “We had to show that we are a community with the capacity, the motivation, the creativity and the capacity to manage this funding. Now we have six months to plan.

The local need for expanded homeless services is also being considered, and this certainly exists in Tompkins County. While youth homelessness can sometimes be hidden, as couch surfing or sleeping on a friend’s floor is common, the problem still exists and can be very difficult to resolve on an individual level, especially more than Tompkins County’s social service systems are apparently still teeming with people asking for help, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money should be used to support populations under 25 who are fleeing dangerous situations, actively homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness. With respect to more specific initiatives, the money can be used for the expansion of support services, transitional housing, quick relocation vouchers, permanent supportive housing, among others – all elements of the continuum of care. care.

Two million dollars is the type of funding stream that spawns many new ideas and opportunities, both new and dormant for years without the money to bring them to fruition.

“There is an appetite to reinvent the entire homeless response system for young people,” said Bargar. “So that there are more direct and less traumatic journeys from the homeless to lodged for young people. Right now it’s a pretty bumpy road so have a clearer path for young people on where to go [is a priority]. “

A main rule with money is that it cannot be used to directly build affordable housing, a source of frustration for some – like Sage Niver, a teenager who has experienced homelessness himself (Niver uses the pronouns them / them). Niver, who works at the Ithaca Ecovillage, said they frequently see new people, especially young adults and youth, coming to the organization desperately trying to find accommodation.

As with everything, there are obstacles – logistical and organizational. Niver said that one of their biggest sources of frustration, personally and among other representatives of the Youth Action Board, is trying to be heard among a large group of collaborating organizations, all led by adults. This is all the more true as Niver and some of their colleagues are actually going through the tribulations of youth homelessness, which is one of the main reasons they have been included as so-called main voices in the grant application and the planning direction.

“At the end of the day you come home, you can sit here and leave your job without having to think about it,” Niver said. “And we have to constantly be sitting here thinking about where we’re going to have our next meal or where we’re going to find a place to stay for tonight, where we’re going to keep all of our things for the next week or so. , and how that affects school, because everything has to be on a computer and no one has WiFi when you’re homeless.

Niver said their colleagues at YAB searched for properties to buy with part of the money, stumbling upon a house that could have contained nine housing units that could have helped at least nine young people escape unstable housing during the minus a while. But, with the rules in place against using the money directly for housing (in the form of real estate purchases), those plans were canceled.

Still, Niver expressed optimism about the potential opportunities the money would unlock, as well as the participation and contribution of other organizations. With the caveat that plans are still being formulated, Niver has focused, at least in part, on immediate solutions that can help those who suffer most from homelessness, while presenting them with resources that ‘they can use to access longer term answers.

“Quick relocation would be my thing and I think that’s one of the best things we can do,” Niver said. “We can use our money to buy hotel rooms for people for long stays if they have to, until we can help them find [housing]. We are trying to plan to hire social workers to be like case managers so that they can help once [people] are in these places for the short term, they can get permanent housing for the longer term.

Even beyond that, Niver hopes that the greater share of financial capacity means that the focus on youth voices is strengthened and maintained. We need to focus on the population of young people who are surfing the couch, anticipating their next meal or trying to find a way to get to school if we are to cure the struggle of this population to find stable housing. .

“That’s the only thing I want from all of this, it’s just for the community to be able to listen to the voices of our young people rather than the people who took us out,” they said.