I’ve learned a lot since joining the Larkin Street board more than six years ago, including startling statistics, like 50% of chronically homeless adults first experienced homelessness as young people. The type of early intervention practiced at Larkin Street works to stop homelessness at its root by providing resources so young people can take control of their lives.
But the most valuable learning has come from interacting with the young people themselves. The young people we serve aren’t victims and don’t see themselves that way. The simple fact is that they exhibit the grit, intelligence, and drive to surmount unspeakably difficult circumstances and emerge as the leaders of tomorrow. On the board, we are humbled every day by their experiences and successes.
As a thought experiment, imagine that you’re 18 again. You’ve lived in many different places, with different adults, many of whom neglect your presence in their lives. You’ve attended seven different schools in as many years and have few friends. It is often made clear to you that there aren’t enough resources to feed, clothe and house you.
Remember, this is you. You have all your hopes and dreams, intelligence, and drive. Yet, faced with circumstances beyond your control that would test—and break—nearly anyone, you deduce that the least horrifying option is to run away from home.
That’s why I tell friends that at Larkin Street, we’re in the business of unlocking potential. And it’s why we don’t just offer young people a place to sleep. We learned decades ago that to thrive, young people, need wraparound services like education, employment training, and physical and mental wellness—the same things that any young person needs. Did you know that nine out of ten young people who complete our housing programs exit street life? It’s a statistic we’re proud of, but the credit goes to the young people—they make it happen.
Now that we know this model works to stop the homelessness cycle, the job becomes scaling our offering; more than 1,000 young people in our city don’t have a safe place to sleep each night. So, for example, we just opened four new sites adding more than 100 beds, a 20% increase versus last year in the number of young people we can house.
If you’re reading this, and by virtue of your ongoing support for Larkin Street, you are someone who already has the empathy to imagine life in someone else’s shoes. On behalf of the Larkin Street board, thank you
for being there for young people. Without you, nothing is possible; with you, we will end youth homelessness in our lifetime.
Larkin Street Youth Services