Power of One
On Wednesday, April 29th, the Obama Administration held a policy briefing on youth homelessness. I was surprised when I was selected to represent youth from the Pacific Northwest at the event. I was beyond excited to know that they were using the voices of young people to create new policies around youth homelessness. Given my experience working with The Mockingbird Society (TMS), I hoped to offer a new perspective that bridged the gap of youth homelessness and youth aging out of foster care.
The first night we arrived, I met with Twiggy Garçon, the Program Officer for The True Colors Fund, a partner and friend of TMS. As we sat at dinner briefing for the next day, I was introduced to two other young people who were going to be on the panel with me. We introduced ourselves by name, state and mission. It was clear that we all came with the intent to bring awareness to all aspects of youth homelessness. I talked about TMS and how Washington state just celebrated the passage of our Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act. We all agreed that this accomplishment needed to have a ripple effect and spread across our nation.
The next day, our commute to the White House was filled with air-tight security checks (seriously, about three different versions!), more preparation, and some nice selfies. After we were escorted to the conference room in a huge building beside the White House, the program began. One by one, different state officials spoke about their connection to addressing youth homelessness. King County’s Homeless Youth & Young Adult Initiative Project Manager, Megan Gibbard, stood in front of the room and quoted Mockingbird’s very own Lamar Campbell! Megan’s message to the crowd was that youth homelessness isn’t just my problem or yours, but all of ours. She also said that it’s time we as a community take responsibility for this problem. Megan’s speech was an honest reflection on exactly what the panelists and I were getting ready to talk about.
As the panel started, we began with the key question, “How does it change the community conversations when youth experiencing homelessness speak up?” I took the wheel and answered first. I shared with the group that I believe young people humanize a situation that kind of seems distant to a lot of people. We knew that our voices and our presence changed the audience’s understanding of the real-life epidemic of youth homelessness.
After the applause stopped, we jumped into the next question: “What do you think needs to be done better to address youth homelessness, locally and nationally?” I spoke about the results of aging out of housing programs. It turns out that not everyone’s problems disappear after they turn 21. Programs need a fail-safe net that catches those youth that don’t have a perfect solution to every problem. We focused on different types of reunification to keep the neighborhoods involved with their communities and provide safe havens for youth and young adults (YYA). The audience hung through with every word. It felt great to be heard.
As an advocate in Washington state, I know the changes that go on here. I know the poverty levels and those who are affected by gaps in our systems. Going to Washington, D.C. opened my eyes to problems that reached beyond my home state. This experience showed me the national call for help. I saw, first hand, that everyone is working together and listening to the youth that are experiencing these gaps. I hope to continue this work until we finally solve and end youth homelessness across America. I thank the True Colors Fund for giving me this opportunity to brighten my horizon. I thank all the officials for their hospitality and respect that was shown while we were there. I thank Mockingbird for showing me that our work doesn’t just stop at home and for giving me the experience of a lifetime.