"You just sign a lease, and that’s it, right?"
5 Myths About Housing and Youth Homelessness
Myth #1 It’s easier to get government support for housing if you’re young.
Getting approved for government housing assistance is complicated. The first step is completing a questionnaire with an extremely complicated name: the VI-SPDAT (Vulnerability Index - Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool). The VI-SPADT measures how vulnerable an applicant is, how long they've been homeless, and whether or not they have a disability. It asks questions like “Have you ever been robbed while experiencing homelessness?” and “Is your homelessness the result of an abusive relationship?” Applicants are ranked, and those with the highest scores are given first priority for housing assistance when it becomes available.
This system may actually work against young people who are homeless because their scores tend to be lower than that of older people who may have been living on the streets for several years. But thanks to our friends and partners at Adult & Child and their Youth Rapid Rehousing Program, many homeless youth have found housing despite the challenges of the current system. Programs like these serve as an aid to our youth when systems put in place tend to work against them.
Myth #2 A person who is homeless can apply for housing assistance on their own.
Applicants are actually required to have eligible organizations (like Outreach) verify and document that they are homeless and have been homeless for a specified period of time. Outreach case managers visit abandoned houses, homeless camps, and shelters and speak with neighbors and shelter staff to verify how long youth have been living at these sites. Keeping track of these details is daunting, but it is one of the most important responsibilities that our case managers have.
Because applicants must also provide identification, Outreach maintains a secure place within the Program Center where youth can store their licenses, birth certificates, and other vital records that could easily be lost or stolen on the street. Without this documentation, youth cannot qualify for government assistance. With it, we can advocate for our youth and help them find stable housing.
Myth #3 Once you get government assistance for housing, you don’t have to pay anything.
There are several different governmental programs, and all require the applicant to pay some portion of their rent and utilities.
The Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program, which targets the most chronically and disabled individuals who are homeless, requires its recipients to pay up to 30% of their rent and utilities if they have any income at all.
Myth #4 If young people are couch surfing, at least they’re safe.
Couch surfing - or the practice of staying temporarily in many different locations - exposes young people to many risks. Often, many other people - many of them strangers - are couch surfing in the same house or apartment. Our youth have reported being robbed or sexually assaulted in these settings. One young woman told us that her bank card was stolen while she was couch surfing, and she blamed herself. “I left my purse out,” she said. “I knew I shouldn’t have. I usually sleep on it.”
Paradoxically, couch surfing can put homeless youth at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking housing assistance. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, couch surfing does not fall under the definition of Literally Homeless - the category that determines a homeless person's eligibility to receive assistance. When completing the VI-SPDAT (the questionnaire with the complicated name that helps determine a person's eligibility for housing assistance), if a young person has reported that they are couch surfing, they are less likely to find assistance because of this.
Myth #5 Once a person finds stable housing, they no longer need assistance from organizations like Outreach.
Getting into housing is just the first step toward self-sufficiency. Our case managers and volunteer staff provide a wide range of supportive services to help youth make the transition to living independently. By partnering with organizations like Mustard Seed and relying on the support of our generous donors, Outreach is able to help at least two young people per month find furniture for their new homes. Case managers work with youth to budget for household expenses, establish a schedule for paying bills and help them apply for SNAP benefits (food stamps). Through a group volunteer opportunity, we provide apartment kits with cleaning supplies and toiletries. As part of our focus on sustainability, case managers stay in contact with our youth to help them transition from one community to the next, continuing to help them find and secure employment, finish their education, and set goals. We walk alongside them as they envision and build new futures for themselves.
In conclusion, don't believe the myths of housing access surrounding homeless youth. As is the case with most information, if you're not sure, just ask! Our case managers are well equipped with up-to-date information and facts surrounding youth homelessness and the resources that exist to help those we serve.
Despite the challenges that our youth experience, Outreach is dedicated to helping young people find and secure stable housing. But we can only do this through support like yours.