A stone’s throw from Harvard University and marked by a hand-painted sign next to the steps of a church, resides Youth on Fire (YOF), an innovative program that serves roughly 250 unduplicated homeless youth ages 14-24 each year. YOF is one of many programs developed by Cambridge Cares about AIDS, an organization born out of the Cambridge Health Department with the mission of responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic with services for marginalized individuals.
Members of YOF are like many homeless youth across the country. Approximately 40% have experience with the Department of Social Services, while 25% have histories of involvement with the juvenile justice system. Members are drawn into YOF for a safe place to shower, do laundry, and eat a hot meal. Some youth visit YOF regularly, which has led to the establishment of services such as medical care, mental health counseling, and HIV and Hepatitis testing. Though an array of services is offered, YOF is a low-threshold program in which members make their own decisions about their goals. The autonomy of the youth is central to the program. A youth advisory board meets monthly to review policy decisions and potential new employees.
A unique aspect of YOF is the Speakers Bureau. Members are given the option to join the Speaker’s Bureau and present at various events with diverse audiences. At these events, the youth are the experts, answering questions generated by audience discussion. These events empower the youth and create a sense of community among the speakers, as well as raise awareness of the issues they face.
The Speaker’s Bureau is part of a new intervention at YOF called Phoenix Rising, a substance use/HIV/hepatitis prevention program that focuses on building strength, creativity, and resilience. Phoenix Rising is centered on the values of reflection, expression, community, and change and is based on the ARC Framework developed by the Trauma Center of Boston. The intervention targets youth who have experienced complex trauma. Phoenix Rising consists of three components: (1) eleven individual sessions with a case manager focusing on trauma education and risk reduction, (2) participation in competence building activities, and (3) monthly meal with other Phoenix Rising participants. The Speaker’s Bureau is one of the competence building activities offered. Although the Phoenix Rising program is an important intervention at Youth On Fire, youth are not required to participate in order to use the facilities.
Youth on Fire Program Manager, Ayala Livny, laments the lack of homeless services for youth, including weekend and evening services, youth shelters, housing options, and opportunities for self-expression. While the Youth on Fire program offers the opportunity for self- expression, there are necessary services that go beyond the scope of this program. It is important to begin somewhere, and YOF is an innovative program that recognizes that success can take place in many different forms.
Youth on Fire, Cambridge Cares About AIDS
Other Links of Interest
De Winter, M.,& Noom, M. (2003). Someone who treats you as an ordinary human being… homeless youth examine the quality of professional care. British Journal of Social Work, (33) 325-337.
Kidd, S., Miner, S., Walker, D., & Davidson, L. (2007). Stories of working with homeless youth: on being “mind-boggling.” Children and Youth Services, 29(1) 16-34.
Park, J.M., Metraux, S., & Culhane, D. (2005). Childhood out-of-home placement and dynamics of public shelter utilization among young homeless adults. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(5) 533-546.
Culture and Trauma Brief: Trauma among Homeless Youth
This brief brings to life the issues facing youth who are homeless and the implications for providing trauma-informed, culturally competent services.
Host Home Manual
This manual is a collection of information, best practices, and resources from agencies throughout New York State with expertise in operating Host Home programs.
Juvenile Runaways Problem Specific Guide Series No. 37. U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC. Dedel, Kelly. 2006.
This guide provides information for police officers about how to improve their responses when interacting with runaway youth.
Youth Involvement in Systems of Care: A Guide to Empowerment. Marlene Matarese, Lorrin McGinnis, Martha Mora. Technical Assistance Partnership: Washington, D.C. January 2005.
This resource guide targets youth, youth coordinators, family members, professionals and other adults and emphasizes the importance of empowering youth and enhancing opportunities. It provides information on youth involvement, encouraging a youth-centered movement in local systems of care.
Seattle Youth Garden Works
This program empowers homeless and under-served youth through garden-based education and employment. Its goals are to connect youth to housing, health care, education, jobs and community.
This group is dedicated to bringing free yoga and wellness education to youth in the Pacific Northwest. Street Yoga teaches classes for youth living on the streets, girls in foster care, children of homeless families and young people recovering from abuse and trauma.
Policy and Advocacy
Fundamental Issues to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness Issue Brief
The purpose of this article is to discuss key issues surrounding the causes and characteristics of youth homelessness. It also explains the youth housing continuum, a method for developing stable and supportive housing for youth.
Legal Tools to End Youth Homelessness
This booklet provides information about federal laws that support youth who are homeless or have been forced from their homes.
Promising Strategies To End Youth Homelessness: A Report to Congress
This report attempts to explain the problem of youth homelessness and examines theoretical perspectives, and interventions to prevent and ameliorate homelessness. It also includes implications for policy and program development.