County to Lead Task Force in Assisting Homeless and At-Risk 18 to 24-Year Olds
(HACKENSACK) – Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III on Wednesday signed an executive order establishing a Young Adult Homelessness Task Force, aimed at providing support services and assisting homeless young adults and unaccompanied youth aged 18 to 24. The effort comes on the heels of the County’s recent success in achieving the status of “functional zero” for both veteran homelessness and chronic homeless and is in line with federal priorities targeting young adults.
County officials indicated that although existing homelessness supportive services and resources can be utilized for the new effort and 18-24 year olds regularly receive services from the County and its continuum of service partners, addressing young adult homelessness presents some unique challenges and opportunities to adapt the County’s existing model to meet the needs of this population.
For example, studies indicate that LGBTQ young adults comprise a disproportionately large percentage of this population, with up to 40% of all homeless young adults identifying as LGBTQ by some estimates. LGBTQ homeless youth have dramatically higher rates of adversity such as suicide and assault, and LGBTQ homeless youth of color have the highest rate of homelessness of any group. Many young adults experiencing homelessness may have faced domestic or sexual violence or other trauma early in life. For many young adults, homelessness is not the only issue—nor is it the largest.
The County task force aims to bring together its homelessness continuum of service partners in order to address all aspects of this population, such as housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, medical care, educational and vocational support, life skills and financial literacy. Of great importance is attempting to reunify young adults with families, or impart skills that allow young adults to form new familial and social support groups, that will be essential in preventing homelessness recidivism and preventing a young adult from becoming chronically homeless later in life.
“We are fortunate to have a great network of government and nonprofit partners who have been integral to our success with ending veteran and chronic homelessness, and these relationships will be key to tackling the unique challenges that come with the 18 to 24-year old population,” said County Executive James J. Tedesco. “They all get it, and they are as eager as we are to get to work to help these young adults receive the services they need. It takes a village, or in this case a county, and working together we can ensure we are offering a full complement of services in a more efficient way than any one agency or government could do on its own.”
The Young Adult Homelessness Tasks Force initial objectives will be to begin the process of data collection and identifying young adults who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or about to age out of the youth system. Using existing partnerships, they will be able to have immediate intervention with unsheltered and unhoused young adults while they develop new policies and programs specific to the 18 to 24-year old population, and apply for grants and other funding to expand services. The County also expects to set up a youth council of young adult clients, giving valuable input that will be integral to the County’s response to this issue.
“Incorporating the voice of our young adults is essential to this effort,” continued Tedesco. “Adults often think we know better, but we want to be sensitive to the fact that some of these young adults may not fully trust adults due to their life experiences. Young adults are also their best advocates, so we know we need to listen to them as we adapt our services to serve them to ensure we are meeting their needs.”
The task force consists of representatives from the following organizations:
Bergen County Department of Health Division on Mental Health
Bergen County Department of Human Services Division of Family Guidance
Greater Bergen Community Action, PHASES Youth Transitional Housing
McKinney Vento Program
New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanence
The Visions program of the Bergen County Division of Family Guidance
New Bridge Medical Center
Bergen Community College
The Housing Authority of Bergen County
Advance Housing, Inc.
The Center for Food Action
Bergen County Division of Community Development
Vantage Health System
Bergen County LGBTQ Advisory Committee
“Nobody plans on becoming homeless. Circumstances sometimes work against individuals and they find themselves without a permanent roof over their heads,” said Freeholder Chairman Tom Sullivan. “No race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or any other attribute is immune to the possibility of becoming homeless, and this task force is a tremendous step in finding solutions to the problems of youth homelessness.”The County indicated that it plans to convene the first meeting of the task force before the end of the summer so that work could commence before the onset of colder weather.