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Building opportunities for runaway teens and at-risk youth: Safe housing is part of the solution

NHC invites guest authors to write on important housing topics.  The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living unsupervised on the streets, in abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers. Homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, substance abuse and death. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth report being physically abused, 38 percent report being emotionally abused and 17 percent report being forced into unwanted sexual activity. Seventy-five percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school.

Addressing teen homelessness by providing at-risk youth with secure housing, combined with supportive counseling and educational services, is key. Supportive housing programs offer a chance for at-risk and runaway youth to gain stability, build skills and realize their potential. Through collaborative projects led by HomeAid, lives are being rebuilt and doorways to positive change constructed with the help of the home building industry.
Providing secure housing for pregnant teens, survivors of sex trafficking
This December, HomeAid Northern Virginia completed the construction of a brand new 5,000-square- foot residential facility on the Youth for Tomorrow (YFT) campus about 40 miles outside Washington, D.C. in Bristow, Va., to provide a safe and secure residence for teen runaways and at-risk youth. YFT was started 29 years ago by former Washington Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs to provide housing, education and clinical services to children and teens. The organization is unique in that it not only provides a full continuum of residential and outpatient services, but also offers its own school for the at-risk youth it serves.
Approximately 75 percent of runaways in the U.S. are female, so the new home was specifically constructed to serve as a girls’ residence, enabling YFT to expand its residential services to up to 36 more girls aged 11 to 17 each year – girls who are pregnant, young mothers, homeless, runaways or survivors of sex trafficking.
HomeAid Northern Virginia’s construction of the YFT residence is an $800,000 investment in the community, with nearly 75 percent  of the costs donated by the HomeAid “Builder Captain” for this project, Stanley Martin Homes and its 90+ trade partners (suppliers, electricians, plumbers, etc.) who collaborated on the project. As you can see, there is power in collaborative partnership; the expertise of the home building industry matched with the supportive YTF programs and educational services translate into a significantly brighter future for at-risk girls.
HomeAid projects provide a pathway for homebuilders to give back to the communities in which they work via the area they know best: construction and renovation. Importantly, the cost efficiencies and savings achieved via HomeAid projects, where much of the expertise and materials are donated or provided at a significantly reduced cost, allow the beneficiary nonprofit organizations like YFT to invest a greater allocation of budget dollars towards care and services rather than towards construction expenses.
Building value: Care, construction, community investment and donor engagement
The benefits to the girls who will be assisted by the YFT program are clear: the comfortable, stable living space that the local home builder community has provided coupled with the supportive programs and school that YFT offers can together help to build a brighter future for girls facing serious life challenges. Research shows that a safe, stable place to call home is important for a child’s physical and mental health today, as well as their growth and learning abilities tomorrow.
The new residence is an important asset to the YFT organization overall, to the entire local community it serves and to the community at large, who may not ever use YFT programs but who benefit indirectly from the availability of comprehensive services for youth and families in the local area. As we all know, communities are stronger when the needs of its most vulnerable are met.
New and renovated facilities also translate into tremendous value for the nonprofit housing organizations. New and renovated buildings enable organizations to expand services. New and renovated buildings create enhanced community visibility, which can then lead to enhanced donor support and bolstered fundraising. At the YFT building dedication in December, for example, YFT brought together local politicians, community advocates and sports personalities – driving media attention to its programs and services, and showcasing to its donor base its growth and standing in the community.
Many organizations are able to leverage the involvement of HomeAid and the many companies that participate in project construction to solidify new funding partners in the community. When people see tangible results that make a difference in a person’s life, like a new home equipped with supportive services, they are more likely to want to get more involved and help be a part of that solution. HomeAid helps organizations reach beyond its existing supporter base and introduces it to a whole new stratum of potential donors and supporters. Part of HomeAid’s role on any project is to bring visibility to the work that’s being done– not only to the physical construction but also to impact of the project and to what the organization will achieve for its clients through the construction project. This is the essence of how HomeAid goes beyond just construction to make a long-lasting difference for its shelter partners and the community at-large.
Convening and collaboration
Like the National Housing Conference, HomeAid Northern Virginia is committed to providing secure housing to the most vulnerable in our communities. We, too, assume a role as conveners: connecting the unique know-how of the home building industry with the housing needs of homelessness-focused nonprofits. Through convening and collaboration, there is a role we can all play to help organizations that address homelessness to grow their assets, enhance their value, expand their services and ultimately provide well-built, well-appointed supportive housing to the at-risk and vulnerable communities they serve.
Guest author Christy Eaton is an employee of HomeAid Northern Virginia. 
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