Homeless individuals who are deemed “chronically homeless” have priority access to shelter and permanent housing. But young people who are on the street—or in danger of losing a roof over their heads—don’t usually meet the definition of “chronically homeless.”

Furthermore, young people who are “couch surfing” or avoiding family or adult shelters because they do not feel safe in those settings, are generally not accounted for when municipalities calculate the number of homeless people who need help.

So this past May, Sasha Bruce Youthwork started a new program – The First Stop. Operating on a shoestring, with no dedicated source of funds, our First Stop staff and volunteers offer unaccompanied young people up to the age of 24 an opportunity to be assessed for housing and other supports, and entered expeditiously into the District’s service system. Our First Stop Program represents one accessible space where young people can begin to turn their lives around – avoiding duplicative entry systems. Using an evidence-based assessment tool, our staff help young people — and service providers — gauge the severity of each youth’s circumstances, allowing intake workers to admit people to shelter, for instance, in a way which is trauma-informed and prioritized according to needs.

In just its first 3 months of operation (through July), our First Stop Program met face-to-face at our central site or through street outreach with 42 homeless or marginally housed, unaccompanied youth. While helping these young people find safe accommodations—and opportunities for healthy development—our staff also collected a trove of important information. Here is a sample of some of the risk and protective factors of this group:

52% of First Stop participants had been to the emergency room in the past 6 months;
36% had interacted with the police;
26% had been attacked or beaten up since becoming homeless;
43% had been told they have a learning disability or developmental disability; and
26% had been incarcerated.

This is just a sample….but even these few statistics compel us all to improve access to safe homes for young people with no where else to turn. For more information about First Stop, contact Jill Cotton by email – jcotton@sashabruce.org – or drop-by one of our First Stop sites, at 745 8th Street SE, from 4 to 8 pm Mondays through Thursdays.
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Sasha Bruce Youthwork provides services to homeless and disconnected youth throughout the D.C. Metropolitan area. Check out our programs at sashabruce.org, or call 202-675-9340. To stay connected, like us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.