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Housing and Homelessness

Young Unhoused People Are Demanding A Seat At The Table To Discuss Policies

A group of young people stand in front of a crowd, some with the arms pointed up. A screen behind them says we can end youth homelessness.
During the launching of the Young People to The Front campaign, guests were treated to live music performances, spoken word and heard from young people who experienced homelessness. Sarah Fay, far right, says it's important people understand the barriers of the system.
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist )
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Young people are demanding a seat at the table when it comes to homelessness policy in Los Angeles.

The L.A. Coalition to End Youth Homelessness and the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership launched their Young People to the Front campaign on Wednesday in the Westlake neighborhood of L.A. The campaign brings together experts and young people who have experienced homelessness calling for changes and action.

“It's critical in order to combat this issue that youth are leading these spaces and we are co-creating blueprints for projects to combat these things and youth have to be at the forefront of creating that policy,” said Melo, an advocate in attendance who uses a first-name only. “I’m a first-generation American and I feel a responsibility to create space for individuals who have so much to offer.”

Melo is wearing a black t-shirt that says Young people to the front in various colors. She's holding the straps of her backpack and smiling looking directly into camera. Her hair is braided and has pink extensions. She is standing outside in front of a wood paneled wall with plants behind her.
Melo, an advocate who was at the campaign launch says it's important to uplift the voices of BIPOC and queer youth (specifically transgender women) who are seeking youth housing services. "If they are safe for them, they are safe for us all."
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist)
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Detrell, who also only goes by their first name, is an activist for youth homelessness. They said it’s about accountability.

“The funding of our schools was controlled by property taxes which were controlled by redlining,” Detrell said. “When you grow up in these systems you see just how much it affects your life and how it can hold you back from achieving things.”

It’s easy to see why many unhoused young people are eager to be heard by officials making decisions about their lives. A study from the L.A. County Department of Public Health revealed that deaths among young people ages 18 to 29 experiencing homelessness more than doubled in two years.

That report compared deaths among unhoused people between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 to the same time period a year prior. Deaths among young unhoused people increased at a greater rate than their older counterparts.

Detrell stands outside wearing glasses and a face mask. He has on a blue jean jacket and a black shirt.
Detrell says growing up in Detroit and seeing inequities is why he became an activist for youth homelessness.
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist)

New Rules

The Young People to the Front campaign calls for a set of policy demands for city, county, state, and federal legislation:

  • Equitable access to services for young people at high risk of experiencing homelessness
  • Dedicated funding for transition aged youth (aged 16-25) as a standard practice with new and existing funding streams
  • Ensuring that youth with lived experience have decision making power in ending youth homelessness
  • Investments in youth-specific services to prevent long term homelessness
  • Decriminalizing youth homelessness

Travis Crown was 18 years old when he found himself unhoused for the first time after being disowned by his parents for being gay. He was able to get into shelter through the L.A. LGBT Center and is now 23, working, and living in his own apartment. Crown said he didn’t realize how common it was for young people to become unhoused until he started working in homelessness services.

“Youth do not have equitable access to resources,” Crown said. “It's hard to get a landlord to give you a lease because they assume you’ll be irresponsible. If you’re a youth of color, or trans, or undocumented, you face so much discrimination. There are more barriers that stack up against you. We need a system where everyone can get access to housing just like anybody else.”

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A youth advocate speaks in front of a crowd at the campaign launch.
"I didn't realize how common it was for youth, especially queer youth, to become homeless," Travis Crown told me. "I've seen so many youth in my shoes. There are flaws in the system that need to be fixed. I want to be part of that movement." Crown is photographed speaking at the campaign launch.
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist)

Sarah Fay, a youth advocate who is currently experiencing homelessness, said the campaign is personal to her because the current systems in place have had such an impact on her life.

“Once I turned 18, I became homeless,” Fay said. “Trying to find stability in my life has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had which is why I've been so tied into this work. There’s a lot of change that needs to be made and be that voice so people can recognize where the barriers are in the system.”

What questions do you have about homelessness?
Ethan Ward for a time lived in his car while attending community college. That experience informs his reporting on one of the most pressing issues in Southern California.