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Walking A Mile in Our Shoes: A Perspective on Youth Homelessness

Youth Action Hub (YAH)
 

Natalie Garcia, Researcher, Youth Action Hub

Over the past year and a half, I have been working as a youth researcher with the Youth Action Hub (YAH).  YAH is a center of research and advocacy guided by Dr. Heather Mosher at the Institute for Community Research.  Our most recent study focused on understanding and improving young people’s access to information and housing-related services in Connecticut.

The Hub is staffed by people my age (16-24 years old) who are trained in Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), a collaborative approach to investigate social issues with youth who have direct experience with the subject matter. This direct experience is crucial to make sure the voices of young people are included in research and policy advocacy around youth homelessness in Connecticut. In fact, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging youth input in these efforts.

When I was in a vulnerable living situation, it was tremendously difficult for me to reach out for help. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I was living in a place where I was rejected for who I am and where I was not valued as a person. I experienced so much emotional turmoil and abuse that I was severely depressed and wanted to end my life to stop the pain.

I didn’t know how to reach out for help, but I was lucky that help found me.  After an event that led me to become hospitalized, I was referred to the Institute of Living in Hartford. There I started going to an LGBTQ intensive outpatient program run by the amazing Dr. Laura Saunders.  She and the staff at the program completely changed my life. I finally felt like I was truly understood by others.  Thanks to them, I was referred to The Connection Inc., a housing program in Connecticut for young people ages 18-24. Without these two programs I wouldn’t be where I am today. Thanks to their help, I am now working full-time as a youth researcher, and living on my own.

When I began research at YAH and interviewing other young people, I learned that it was often difficult for them to reach out for help, just as it had been for me.  Many youth feel a disconnect between service providers and themselves. They told us they needed helpers to be proactive, responsive, caring, and relatable.

It always stood out to me that youth didn’t feel comfortable bringing up their issues to others. They felt like they would be judged or that people wouldn’t truly understand their situations. This really resonated with me because I’ve had the exact same experiences.

If we want to end youth homelessness, we need to be able to connect with youth as if we were in their shoes. Because all of us at YAH have previously been those youth, our perspective helps to inform our research. Because we are peers, we have been able to establish strong connections with youth experiencing homelessness. The value of these connections is tremendous and has been crucial to our journey to end youth homelessness.

I’m proud of the work our team has done at the Youth Action Hub and I am excited as we continue our efforts to contribute to ending youth homelessness in Connecticut. If you are interested in learning more about YAH, visit www.youthactionhub.org, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@YouthActionHub).

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