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What Philanthropy Can Do To End Youth Homelessness in America: Invest in Policy Advocacy, Youth Voice, and Public Education


America’s young people could have a safer, more secure, and much brighter tomorrow if philanthropy and government collaborated to invest in five key areas. (Part 2 of 2)

The interest in youth homelessness in America is on the rise, which has created an amazing opportunity to move us closer together in our work for these young people. The National Network for Youth works to ensure that opportunities for growth and development are available to all homeless youth and that they receive full and fair access to child welfare, physical and mental health care, education, workforce investment programs, housing opportunities, and community supports. We work diligently to ensure that policy, practice and research has long-lasting benefits for all young people and their families and communities.

This is part two of a two-part blog series and will focus on how philanthropy can invest in federal and state policy advocacy, youth voice, and public education and engagement. Part one discussed how philanthropy can invest in community based services and research.

Invest in Federal and State Policy Advocacy

  • Federal Policy Organizing and Advocacy: U.S. Congress and federal agencies make decisions about policy and funding that directly affects runaway and homeless youth in America and the programs and agencies that seek to serve them. To effectively educate key decision makers about the urgent and youth-appropriate needs of these young people and their families, diverse stakeholders need to be communicating the same messages to U.S. Congress and federal agencies. In its role as convener, philanthropy can bring stakeholders together and support the development of key messages. Also, philanthropy can robustly fund federal policy advocacy to remove barriers to services for homeless youth and ensure that providers have the capacity to meet the needs of young people.

  • State Policy Organizing and Advocacy: To effectively build the capacity to prevent and protect runaway and homeless youth in America, state and local governments must invest too. In 2009, the National Network for Youth and the American Bar Association drafted Model State Laws for Runaway and Homeless Youth. In 2012 the Network co-released Alone Without A Home: A State-By-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Youth with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Unfortunately, many states still lack a state runaway and homeless youth law to provide services and many states have harmful laws that criminalize youth for running away or not attending school. Philanthropy can invest in state policy advocacy initiatives to ensure adequate access to services and interventions for homeless youth and decriminalize survival behavior.

Invest in Youth Voice

The National Network for Youth launched a National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) with five Youth Advisors. These Youth Advisors are experts of their experience who inform our federal policy work and will be creating their own public education agenda. It is vital that we invite youth to be at the table with us in this work as equal partners. Young people are experts of the runaway and homeless youth experience by virtue of their lived-experience. Young people who have survived homelessness are best able to identify why they became homeless, what could have possibly prevented their homelessness and what services and interventions helped them or could have helped them. These youth experts are the most effective and compelling educators and advocates for homeless youth policies. Philanthropy can support efforts to connect these young people to decision makers, communities, service providers, and the public to increase the safety net for America’s runaway and homeless youth.

Invest in Public Education and Engagement

Most people are unaware that homeless youth live in their community. Policy advocates would be more effective in moving youth-appropriate policies if more of the general public cared about ending youth homelessness and became actively engaged in local, state and federal campaigns and policy formation. It is especially important to educate the public about rural youth homelessness and the intersection between homelessness and human trafficking. Even if you are not ready to support policy advocacy at the state or national level, as funders, you can help raise awareness of the issue in your community.

Philanthropy plays a crucial role in supporting the creation of policies that responds to the needs of our young people, ensuring that the voices of young people are heard, and raising awareness of the issue among the general public. From its unique perch, philanthropy can bring together diverse stakeholders and build their capacity to be heard by key decision makers. Together, we can support our youth and ensure opportunities into adulthood.

Contact Funders Together to learn more about the role of funders as advocates or to be connected to other funders supporting youth homelessness advocacy.

Darla Bardine is the Executive Director of the National Network for Youth, the nation’s leading network of runaway and homeless youth programs. The Network champions the needs of runaway, homeless and other disconnected youth through strengthening the capacity of community-based services, facilitating resource sharing, collaborating to provide youth-appropriate interventions and educating the public and policymakers. NN4Y members work collaboratively to prevent youth homelessness and the inherent risks of living on the streets, which includes: victimization, exploitation, human trafficking, criminal justice involvement, lifetime homelessness, health deterioration or death. For more information, visit www.nn4youth.org.

The photo above shows Jessica McCormick, a NN4Y National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) Youth Advisor, speaking at NN4Y’s 2014 National Summit on Youth Homelessness on Capitol Hill.

Read part 1 of this blog series - What Philanthropy Can Do To End Youth Homelessness in America: Invest in Community-Based Services and Research


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Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

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