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CHD expands youth homelessness services through internal and community partnerships

As part of a $2.4 million federal grant awarded to the City of Springfield with the goal of preventing and ending homelessness among youth and young adults, CHD will serve as a key provider in a comprehensive program to coordinate efforts among local providers and increase capacity to serve young people experiencing homelessness across the community.

Led by Springfield-Hampden County Continuum of Care (CoC) and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the program, known as the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), focuses on streamlining youth’s access to the spectrum of supportive services available in the area. Among these supportive services are access to stable housing, resources that promote health and wellbeing, education and employment, and permanent, supportive connections.

The YHDP represents a culmination of more than 8 months of roundtable discussion, workshops and focus groups among staff of CHD’s Children and Families Division, as well as other community providers, government representatives and youth served, who consulted as experts.

Through this grant, CHD will work with the Gandara Center to operate a Coordinated Entry and Navigation project, which facilitates a Youth Housing Crisis Line—413-316-4979—that will connect young people to resources they need. These resources include, but are not limited to, emergency shelter, housing options through YHDP and other community partners, rental assistance, basics like food and transportation, education and employment resources, family mediation and mental health and substance use services. CHD will also operate a segment of the YHDP’s Rapid Rehousing component.

The Youth Housing Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When young people call, they’re connected with trained staff, known as Navigators, who help them gain access to assistance and address their individualized needs. There are four Navigators total—two from CHD and two from Gandara—and each is trained to use the same approach to ensure every step beginning at intake is coordinated, too. Navigators use what’s known as the Problem-Solving Protocol, an approach crafted by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) that concentrates on ending youth homelessness and including the input of young people through the whole process.

“One of the major goals of this project was making sure youth voice was at the center of each discussion,” said Assistant Program Director for CHD’s Children and Families services Tyrese Tillman. “Young people were instrumental in the development of each portion of the plan. Our Coordinated Entry system really reflects what we heard during our discussion with youth. We’re really fortunate to be able to partner on Coordinated Entry with Gandara,” he said.

“One of the major goals of this project was making sure youth voice was at the center of each discussion. Young people were instrumental in the development of each portion of the plan.”

Tyrese Tillman, Assistant Program Director
CHD Children and Families


During these discussions, young people with lived experience said they felt they had to call many different providers before they were able to secure each of the supports they needed. To remedy this, the project created a one-touchpoint entry system through the Youth Housing Crisis Line where each caller is triaged and immediately receives an appointment to assess their immediate and long-term needs.

Within the Rapid Rehousing component of the project, CHD will also provide rental assistance and supportive services for 30 young adults up to age 24 for up to two years, with the goal of having each ultimately take over the full rent once two years of subsidy is up. For each of these 30 units, young people served are given a say in the communities they want to be part of, and CHD steps in to support them in that process.

Gandara will also operate 10 transitional-to-rapid rehousing units, plus short-term rental assistance, and The Mental Health Association (MHA) will operate eight Permanent Supportive Housing units that provide affordable housing and intensive supportive services for homeless young adults with disabilities.

Now that the program has launched, team members from CHD, Gandara and MHA take part in coordinated entry system meetings every two weeks. In doing so, these meetings also serve as a case conferencing opportunity for provider partners to further coordinate efforts and ensure youth served are connected to all necessary supports. In addition, the young adults who have consulted since the program’s planning stages continue to take part in workshops and committee meetings related to YHDP.

While this collaboration among the agencies has allowed for an enhanced capacity for wraparound services, it has also helped internal capacity to expand, too, explained Program Director for CHD’s Children and Families Services Rhonda Young.

“CHD has operated the Safety Zone program for a very long time, but it’s been its own smaller entity,” Young explained. “This project has really allowed it to expand out into the community, and it’s really exciting.”

“The fact that young people are being brought in for their voice and helping frame how the programs are going to work is really special, too” Young added. “Young people are the experts and have been a part of the process all the way. At every opportunity we try to bring them to the table as a colleague, where their expertise is factored into every decision.”

Though geared toward young adults aged 18-24, staff anticipated that referrals for minors will also come in through the Youth Housing Crisis Line. Within this system, CHD has the capacity work with minors through its programs serving Runaway & Homeless Youth, and they’ll be guided to the appropriate supports.

In addition to serving as an opportunity to partner with other providers in the community, the YHDP has also been an opportunity both the Children & Families teams and Diversion, Shelter & Housing team to partner to best meet the needs of young people in need. A special focus of the YHDP was to ensure the program was geared toward young adults specifically.

“In the creation of the program, we had to think about how to best support young adults and keep in mind how services to meet their needs differ from those serving older adults or families,” said CHD Director of Homelessness Services Theresa Nicholson. “We’re taking our expertise in Diversion, Shelter & Housing, especially with compliance for HUD housing quality standards, and combining that with Rhonda and Tyrese’s expertise supporting youth. It’s a great internal partnership in that way as well.”