True Colors United
In the United States, 4.2 million youth experience homelessness each year, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers. True Colors United believes that in order to develop effective policy solutions to end youth homelessness, youth with lived experience must be a part of the solution. And no organization is doing more than True Colors to bring LGBTQ youth to the table in a meaningful way.
One way that True Colors is empowering youth is through its National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH), a group founded in 2015 to ensure that the national conversation is informed by and filtered through the perspectives of young people who have experienced homelessness, and that strategies to end homelessness are generated by youth and young adults themselves.
The group is comprised exclusively of young people who have experienced homelessness who use personal expertise, research, and data to assess the effectiveness of programs that assist youth experiencing homelessness. The primary goal of NYFH is to identify and analyze policy that impacts youth who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and then advocate for strong policy based upon that analysis.
“Typically, youth homelessness policy has been driven by adults without lived experience. Because of that, for decades now, decision makers in the homelessness field have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out how to fix the system, to no avail. People who have navigated the systems of youth homelessness themselves can more effectively cut through the bureaucracy and get to the crux of how these systems work to bring about real change,” said Rivianna Hyatt, True Colors Program Officer and a founding member of the NYFH.
With the Raikes Foundation’s support, True Colors has expanded the NYFH from 15 members to 25, and increased both the staffing devoted to NYFH and the number of paid hours that NYFH members are able to devote to this work. The Foundation has also supported a shift in the strategic direction of True Colors’ focus. Whereas previously True Colors worked to facilitate youth collaboration, now, thanks to increased capacity and funding, True Colors has created a curriculum to build the power of young people to effect policy change.
“Thanks in part to the NYFH, young people have been in the room for big decision-making moments on homelessness policy. That has given us so much momentum - what we had thought about and hypothesized about building these spaces worked, and now it’s just a matter of continuing the work to ensure that youth are heard and their voices are uplifted,” continued Hyatt.
The NYFH is broken up into four different working groups: training and education, communications, youth action, and policy and advocacy. Staying true to True Colors’ mission, youth set the agenda for each group. For example, the policy and advocacy working group is currently thinking about topics that relate to homelessness in regards to housing, equity, and education in response to the current demonstrations for racial equity. One of the group’s goals is to think about homelessness through an intersectional lens, rather than a monolithic view. And the group is also building a COVID and racial equity youth action toolkit with True Colors staff that they ultimately hope to build into a youth action course to teach young people how to engage in advocacy.
Critically, the NYFH has also had an incredible impact on its members. “The NYFH offers young people an opportunity to thrive in advocacy work and add their voices to a national conversation on homelessness. The young people feel pride and ownership in their work, and gain invaluable experience in leadership and public speaking as a result,” said Ken Lopez, True Colors Program officer for the NYFH.
In addition to empowering youth to change homelessness policy, True Colors, in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and with support from the Raikes Foundation, is tracking the myriad barriers and challenges youth experiencing homelessness face with the State Index on Youth Homelessness. The Index provides states, advocates, grassroots activists, and youth themselves with tools to take concrete action to protect the safety, development, health, and dignity of youth experiencing homelessness, in order to help end the cycle of homelessness for good.
To learn more about True Colors and to support their work, visit truecolorsunited.org.