The number of homeless young adults age 18-24 is rising across California. In Santa Cruz County, the 2019 Point-in-Time (PIT) count shows 27 percent of the County’s homeless population fall into this category. Through its programs, Families In Transition (FIT) is dedicated to helping these younger residents avoid the streets.
One such program, Young Adults Achieving Success (YAAS) is geared specifically toward helping pregnant and parenting youth quickly find and maintain stable housing. Launched in October 2018, thanks to a federal Youth Homeless Demonstration Project grant received from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the YAAS program provides “rapid re-housing” to those currently experiencing homelessness, including short-term rental assistance and services, with the goal to help people get housing quickly, increase self-sufficiency and stay housed.
YAAS is a low-barrier, flexible program with resources and services customized to the needs of the person. A YAAS case manager determines participant need and availability of funds to aid with rent, security deposits, furniture and more. A FIT “housing navigator” works to understand the housing needs and preferences (location, bedrooms, etc.) of the client, with a focus on helping clients to obtain housing they can maintain and afford once financial assistance from the YAAS program ends.
Landlord participation is the key to success for FIT programs. In Santa Cruz County’s highly competitive housing market, an essential component of landlord participation is a promise from FIT to ensure the housing placement is a win/win for the client and landlord. For landlords, it can feel like a risk to rent to a young adult or young family, many of whom may not have references, credit history or employment history. YAAS case managers stay in close communication with landlords and clients, including monthly home visits and FIT office visits. YAAS case managers also offer skill building in positive tenancy practices and landlord communication, providing an added layer of security to ensure the landlord/tenant relationship is successful.
In addition to securing a one-year lease, YAAS assists clients in improving life skills such as job interviews and applications, financial responsibility and budgeting, lease applications and compliance, and referrals to nutritional, mental health and substance abuse services, positive parenting and education.
Recently, a single mother with one child, who was estranged from her parents, came to FIT. The mother was the victim of domestic violence and afraid for her safety. Immediately, FIT helped connect her and her child to emergency shelter in a local church. Within one week, the family was placed in a home in Watsonville. The mother is now employed, connected to services and resources, and has new-found stability in her life for her and her child.
“The system worked perfectly. The mother and her child were housed, connected with counseling, domestic violence and restraining order assistance, and she’s starting to build a relationship with her family again. The most meaningful part of this work is providing a home to a family and to see them when they get keys. They get to have a place to call home.”
The receipt of HUD’s two-year Youth Homeless Demonstration Grant to fund programs such as YAAS was a major win for Santa Cruz County. Out of 142 applicants, Santa Cruz County was one of only 10 communities to receive the $2.2 million grant. The success of YAAS during this demonstration period makes it likely the funding for YAAS, and other programs, will continue indefinitely.