Power of One
In February, I was invited to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) conference in San Diego. NAEH is a massive organization that focuses on bringing different service providers together to end homelessness across the country. They hold two meetings per year. On February 18, representatives from Mockingbird and the True Colors Fund were asked to give some youth insight in a panel discussion.
There was an immediate feeling of gratification as I stepped outside at the airport. The cool breeze from the ocean and the suddenly much-warmer-than-Seattle weather felt like some kind of amazing foreshadowing for what the next couple of days would bring. That night, I went with Mockingbird’s Director of Youth Programs, Fred Kingston, to meet with Gregory Lewis, the Co-founder and Executive Director of the True Colors Fund, a philanthropy group dedicated to improving and ending homelessness for youth who identify as LGBTQ. We met up for dinner and talked about the importance of youth voice in our community. Our meeting also allowed me to get some insight on what Gregory and his organization are trying to accomplish.
On Thursday morning I met with the two other youth who joined me on the panel to represent the True Colors Fund: Riviera and Indie. We introduced ourselves and immediately got down to discussing our upcoming panel and getting to know each other a bit. With formalities out of the way, we split off to visit our respective workshops until it was time to give our presentation.
As I approached the grand ballroom, the weight of what I was about to do slowly crept up on me. Tables spread throughout the entire ballroom to accommodate 900 people. My crew reassured me that I’d be fine, but I had lingering insecurities that welled up as the ballroom began to flood with fellow stakeholders from around the country. There were a few speakers that went up before us to discuss some of the national work that had been going on, and then we were introduced to the stage to make our presentations.
As fast as my nervousness appeared, it left as I got up on stage. Gregory asked all of us a series of questions about the importance of youth voice, and discussed what we felt were gaps in care in our communities. The issue that I discussed was the lack of capacity in organizations to properly train and support case managers to help meet the needs of young people who have been marginalized and require a different approach to set goals and get the help they need.
The five minutes that I spoke seemed to have taken a lifetime, but when it was over the feeling of empowerment never really left. The rest of the luncheon and panel seemed to have flown by, and I was amazed at the amount of people that came up and asked me and the others about how to involve youth in their discussions, as well as thanked us for our insight and time. It was thrilling.
After our panel concluded, we split to meet again later that night for a showing of the documentary film “Homestretch.” There was also a question and answer session after the film. In addition, I joined a workshop where Fred presented and was excited to find out what other states were doing in their continuums of care.
I learned a lot during my trip and in the workshops. I learned that Seattle might not be as far ahead in services as I’d like to believe, but we are very innovative. I also learned that youth voice is a powerful tool, and the fact that our region prioritizes youth input places us in a very good position. We really are laying some important groundwork to ensure we end homelessness, even on the national level.