One night of living on the streets can make for a lifetime of trauma. Most of us who are fortunate to have roofs over our heads, clean water, a bed to sleep in, and food to eat have no idea what that’s like. Unfortunately, many young people in San Francisco do, and this is not just an issue facing San Francisco but is seen across the United States. Young people experiencing homelessness are often forgotten: frequently left out of our political dialogue and disproportionately impacted by systemic oppression because of their race, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. As with most of the social ills that face our communities, youth homelessness is first, and foremost, an issue of inequity; 80% of the young people we serve are BIPOC (29% are Black and 27% are Latinx), and almost half identify as LGBTQ+.
Two years ago, the City issued an ambitious and comprehensive framework to prevent and end youth homelessness and as a community, we have spun those words into action: launching the Rising Up campaign to cut youth homelessness in half by 2023, creating a first-of-its-kind housing program for transgender youth, and even now is taking the first steps towards opening a landmark Youth Navigation Center.
Over the past several months, our leaders have been faced with the unenviable task of stewarding the City’s budget in the midst of an economic downturn the likes of which has not been seen in almost a century. While the Mayor’s most recent budget revision is a measured and fiscally sound roadmap to a balanced city budget, we must heed the lessons we have learned in the past as well as the ones before us today.
Almost 50% of people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco had their first unhoused experience before the age of 25. The economic instability of this moment and an historically high unemployment rate have left vulnerable youth facing untenable circumstances and enormous challenges; challenges that are already compounded locally by an acute, ongoing housing crisis. Investing in supportive housing and workforce development programming for young people is both morally responsible, and an economically sound decision, as every dollar spent serving unhoused young people is returned eight-fold by ensuring that we intervene on their behalf before they enter into chronic homelessness.
Our budget is a reflection of our values, and it is of the utmost importance that our next budget exemplifies those values by supporting the needs of vulnerable youth. We cannot afford to deprioritize funding for homeless services and we must continue to swim upstream by devoting increased resources to proven preventative measures that combat homelessness. It is imperative that the City expand emergency housing options to get youth off the streets quickly, long-term housing exits that keep them stably housed, and deep investments in workforce development programs.
In order to mitigate the far reaching implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure future progress towards a goal of homelessness being a brief, one-time, and rare experience for any young person, we must deepen our investments in our homelessness response system. We believe that every young person is a complex individual who bears unlimited potential and possesses their own unique inner spirit. San Francisco prides itself on its values: equity, diversity and inclusion. We urge our fellow San Franciscans to hold true to these values by championing the needs of vulnerable young people with the Mayor and Board of Supervisors during this critical time in our City’s history.
Joi Jackson-Morgan, Executive Director, 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic
Steve Good, Executive Director, Five Keys Schools and Programs
Charles Lerner, Executive Director, At The Crossroads
Rick Aubry, Chief Executive Officer, Community Housing Partnership
Mary Howe, Executive Director, Homeless Youth Alliance
Doug Styles, Executive Director, Huckleberry Youth Programs
Jodi Schwartz, Executive Director, LYRIC
Rebecca Rolfe, Executive Director, San Francisco LGBT Center
Sherilyn Adams, Executive Director, Larkin Street Youth Services
Dion-Jay Brookter, Executive Director, Young Community Developers