The nonprofit Homeless Youth Connection received a $250,000 grant from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation to help students who are experiencing homelessness.
Founded in 2010, the Avondale-based HYC works with young adults ages 13 to 21 at Maricopa County schools.
“This is such a tremendous gift,” said Dana Bailey, HYC’s chief operating officer.
“We truly are doing everything that we can, and having the funding support from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation is just such an integral part of what we do. We’re so grateful that they support this work and recognize how important it is to these kids to have an opportunity at a full and stable future.”
The foundation’s support helps the organization provide housing, basic needs, case management and educational support, according to Kayla McCullough, HYC program manager.
“The Parsons’ grant has a lot of different components to it,” McCullough said. “That grant is designed to help us expand so that we can serve more youth and serve at a deeper level to really be able to engage with our students, spend more time with them, and really get to know them and their unique needs.”
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2019, Arizona had an estimated 10,007 people experiencing homelessness per day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of that total, 587 were unaccompanied young adults between ages 18 and 24.
“That grant money also helps fund supplies for students, whether it be clothing, school supplies or hygiene items,” McCullough said. “It really makes sure that our students don’t have the anxiety of not knowing where their next meal is going to come from or not knowing if they’re going to have clean clothes to go to school. We can take care of those things and give them that peace of mind.”
Many students lack support because of stereotypical stigmas of homeless youth.
“I think the greater generalized society sees homeless youth as kids who have run away because they don’t like the rules at home,” McCullough said. “(Society thinks) they’re out committing crimes or using drugs and don’t want to be in school. That’s very much not the case. The majority of youth experiencing homelessness have things happen to them. Their only way of surviving is to leave the environment that they were in and try and figure it out on their own.”
McCullough outlined how folks can raise awareness of and advocate to contribute to the organization.
“I think the first thing is helping educate the community about that stigma and about who these youth are. Second, just keeping an eye out as the general community. These youth are what we call an ‘invisible population,’” McCullough said.
Bailey stated that when many teens reach 18 years old, their families feel they have met their expected financial contribution, resulting in homelessness immediately after high school.
Bailey said the “five Ds” are the reasons why students leave home.
“There’s what we refer to as the ‘five Ds,’ meaning divorce, death, disease, downsizing and drugs,” Bailey said. “One we’ve seen a lot in this last year is downsizing and employment because of the pandemic.”
According to Bailey, COVID-19 initially impacted the way HYC provided services to the youth because they were no longer attending school in person. HYC coaches frequently met teens at the schools.
“We adjusted to connecting in other ways, including Zoom, FaceTime, texting, contactless deliveries and social distancing meetings,” Bailey said. “We also reached out to the community for funding and donations to provide needed supplies for the students to do remote learning, including laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots as well as provide grocery gift cards, masks and hand sanitizer.”
Bailey said she hopes HYC will continue to impact the lives of youth who are experiencing homelessness.
“We want to provide them with the resources to live a successful and sustainable future and to have our community’s support in helping these young people,” Bailey said.
Homeless youths can contact Homeless Youth Connection by calling 623-374-3747 or visiting hycaz.org.