As many as 2.8 million youth in the United States experience homelessness each year.1 This population is more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior and be victimized. As a result, their service needs are often unique and include housing and support services such medical care, employment, and mental health counseling. A statewide coalition of agencies in Vermont is leading the charge to support these youth with targeted programs to promote stability and resilience.
The Vermont Coalition of Runaway & Homeless Youth Programs Visit disclaimer page (VCRHYP) is a group of 14 agencies that work to support Vermont youth ages 12 to 23 who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. According to Bethany Pombar, VCRHYP Director, “A lot of our RHY have experienced sexual abuse and sexual exploitation through human trafficking or survival sex — trading sex for shelter, food, or other basic needs. We want to empower our youth to know other options are available to them.”
VCRHYP follows a harm-reduction model by empowering youth to take control of their own positive decisions. The coalition works with youth to complete their education, acquire work skills, and build vital life skills with the goal of achieving four key outcomes: stable housing, well-being, education/employment, and lasting connections.
VCRHYP has also teamed up with a photographer and ethnographer to capture the high and low moments from the lives of Vermont youth at risk. The HIGHLOW Project Visit disclaimer page is a set of photographs and audio clips that depict life on the margins. The HIGHLOW Project provides a revealing and intimate look at the range of experience that have shaped the lives of Vermont youth.
The VCRHYP also works through one of its local agencies, the NorthEast Kingdom Community Action Agency Visit disclaimer page (NEKCA), to help runaway and homeless youth meet their basic need for shelter through emergency and transitional housing. Youth may need housing for many reasons. Some can’t find a home or have trouble finding or keeping a job. Others may have aged out of foster care and are facing the challenges of transitioning to adulthood. NEKCA currently has three transitional housing apartments for youth through its Community Action Youth Services (CAYS). Youth are able to receive housing and wraparound services, including basic needs, education, employment, mentoring, and emergency support for up to two years.
“In general, youth that are in poverty and not pregnant when they join the program usually do really well. They don’t have to come back to the program to access services. That’s success!” says Kathy Metras, Program Director for NEKCA’s Youth Services.
NEKCA also offers alternative education to pregnant and parenting youth through their Learning Together program. Certified by the Vermont Agency of Education, the program helps youth complete high school or obtain their GED. Youth also receive life skills, parent education, career readiness training, and emotional wellness training while working to complete their education. Thanks to NEKCA’s support, Vermont youth are experiencing fewer repeat pregnancies and there has been a significant drop in teen pregnancies.
NEKCA and other organizations in the VCRHYP currently receive funding from the State PREP Program administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s (FYSB) Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (APP).