While the broader debate around addressing homelessness trudges forward, some groups have oriented their focus to a particular subset of the population. In the case of 15th Night, the group believes they have found a workable prescription for Cottage Grove’s homeless youths.
The 15th Night is a Eugene-based organization dedicated to safeguarding youth against homelessness.
Its name was derived from an observation that, when a youth is new to homelessness, there is a narrow window of time (two weeks) to intervene before that youth is 80 to 85 percent more likely to experience chronic homelessness.
The nonprofit has recently released recommendations for Cottage Grove, which will draw upon the community’s existing infrastructure of services to connect youth with the resources they need.
In preparation for the recommendations, interviews were conducted with 30 community members and youth to develop a basic understanding of the community culture, understanding of youth homelessness, resources, access barriers, needs, and to determine how the 15th Night model could help address youth homelessness in Cottage Grove.
The organization has been operating in the Eugene-Springfield area for around six years, finding ways to keep kids in school and off the streets by connecting them existing resources. The group uses a youth-informed approach to achieve its ends.
“[It’s] a community effort to try and address youth homelessness by listening to youth who have lived experience and who care about the issue,” explained 15th Night Community Coordinator Megan Shultz.
The group was invited to Cottage Grove this year to see what its model might look like in the area. It has spent the last several months connecting with various local resources to get the lay of the land.
Based on that information, 15th Night has made several recommendations about what it thinks it could do to support Cottage Grove’s network.
15th Night connects youths with the resources by partnering with local advocates and agencies which can make references and then deliver goods or services which fit a youth’s particular needs. Getting those contact points connected is done through the use of the group’s Rapid Access Network (RAN) technology, which connects resources in real time.
“So if I am a student that needs shoes, an alert goes out in the RAN to any of the network partners that provide those things,” Shultz explained. “And so, if I am a partner that provides food or help with employment, I do not get that alert. I’m only getting alerts for what I said I can help with.”
The nonprofit’s model is based on building alliances with already-existing networks within the community and integrating services like RAN across those networks. In effect, it works to enhance what’s already there and build upon those foundations.
The 15th Night’s recommendation cited McKinney-Vento reporting for the 2019-20 school year in South Lane School District (SLSD). The report counted 340 homeless youth in Pre-K through 12th grade.
A good majority, 172 of the total, were “doubled up”, or in shared living arrangements, while 80 youth remained unaccompanied and 69 were counted as unsheltered.
To address these youth, 15th Night is recommending a “hybrid” model for Cottage Grove.
“It’s not going to look exactly like it looks here in Eugene-Springfield, because we don’t believe that the Eugene-Springfield model would be the best support for the Cottage Grove,” said Shultz.
Typically, 15th Night’s model has been community-based, but focused specifically on unaccompanied students and reaching into high schools.
“So in 4J, for example, we’re in their high schools, but we’re not in their middle schools or elementary schools. We’re just in the high schools and we just do students,” explained Shultz.
The hybrid model means Cottage Grove will be the first place that 15th Night has implemented a school-district-wide model that will be available for all students and all families.
“So that’s very different that then what we’ve done in the past, and eventually we’re recommending that there’ll be also community members that work with your homeless student population who would be able to access the school district’s Rapid Access Network,” said Shultz.
At Sheldon High School in Eugene, for example, only high school staff that can access the network; there’s no outside community utilizing it. In Cottage Grove’s case, staff from a group like Looking Glass Community Services or Connected Lane County’s WIOA program would be able to utilize RAN.
15th Night chose a hybrid model for Cottage Grove due to its size and the strength of its existing networks, Shultz said. Organizations like SOUP and Be Your Best stand out as effective resources.
“They’re very strong, well-connected networks of organizations that also include the schools, which is different than we’ve seen in even in our own community,” said Shultz, referring to the Eugene-Springfield area. “It is remarkable, the strength of the two networks that you already have.”
Looking forward, Shultz hopes to build off that strength with the school district.
Next, the nonprofit will be talking with students about what resources and services they are aware of, what barriers they see in accessing them and what kinds of services they feel the community needs.
The group aims to form a SLSD Youth Action Council which will ensure authentic youth engagement to help remove barriers, identify needs and implement solutions.
15th Night has already met with SLSD’s community resource specialists, who are trained to help students and families connect to resources and services.
Resources and services which provide food, clothes, shelter and job opportunities are being considered for the network.
With information obtained from both the youth and resource specialists, the project is on course to launch in September as the next school year begins, which will also provide time for training opportunities.
“At the end of the day, all of this work really has to be everybody coming together,” said Shultz. “This is not just a South Lane School District effort; this has to be a community effort.”
A real key to implementing an effective plan, she said, will be identifying barriers with the help of the students themselves.
“Teachers and staff aren’t going to be able to say what the barriers to access are for students; the students are going to have to tell us. They’re the ones that are going have to tell us how to fix them,” she said.
Measuring success will require some patience, too.
“Honestly, if we do our job right, you should see your numbers go up at the beginning,” said Shultz.
One basic assumption in nearly any homeless count is that many more remain unidentified than show up in the count. As 15th Night works to normalize asking for help by removing the shame factor and helping people recognize the signs of those struggling with homelessness, the hope is that more students will be identified.
“And then what you hope to see is that those students are graduating,” said Shultz. “That through these efforts, students are not dropping out of school because they’re homeless; that they’re able to stay engaged in their education and get their basic needs met.”
While finding a job, obtaining basic necessities or getting access to health services are within the project’s grasp, Shultz acknowledges that securing safe shelter for youth is, in the end, a much broader problem.
“We’ve been working really hard to try and find innovative ways to build capacity, to provide more shelter, provide more housing. And so, if we’re able to fill that last puzzle piece, which is that housing and shelter piece, then we should see a decrease in homelessness,” she said.
Addressing the problem early, too, is essential.
“If you’re going to drop out of school at 16 and end up on the street, then I am surely going to be trying to find you a shelter bed when you’re 24 years old,” said Shultz. “If you aren’t experiencing homelessness as youth, we’re turning the spigot off to the street.”
For more information about 15th Night, visit the website at www.15thnight.org.