To end youth and young adult homelessness, we need a variety of solutions in our toolbox. Young people’s situations are unique, and that means communities must build the capacity to respond to all sorts of needs. That’s why we created the Centralized Diversion Fund, a source of flexible financial assistance to help secure housing for young people.
Diversion is a creative problem-solving approach where service providers empower young people to take the necessary steps to address their unique situation and secure housing quickly. Providers let young people take the lead in identifying the housing solution that will work for them, and support young people to implement their housing plan. This allows communities to use creative conversations paired with funding to resolve young people’s immediate housing needs, rather than waiting for housing units to open up.
Diversion can mean many different types of support, from connecting young people with family or friends who can house them, to negotiating with a landlord. At times, diversion can lead to a housing placement without any financial assistance, but as we’ve heard from young people before, sometimes what they truly need to stay housed is cash. That’s where the Centralized Diversion Fund comes in.
Our systems typically make it too difficult for no- and low-income folks to access the type of funding they need. Flexibility is key to respond to the needs described by young people, yet program models are often too prescriptive. Programs can also be tied to arbitrary measures of worthiness, like employment, and ignore the lived realities of people experiencing poverty. We want to remove these barriers and meet young people where they are, so the Centralized Diversion Fund can be accessed by any unaccompanied young person (ages 12-24) experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of homelessness who needs financial assistance to secure housing.
I have led diversion programs for young people before, and they come up with so many unique housing solutions. In one instance, a young person had a aunt in Oakland who she could stay with if she could get there, so diversion paid for repairs to her car and gas cards for the trip. In another, a young person’s entire family was experiencing homelessness – they had broken up because it was easier to access services that way. We paid for that young person’s first and last month’s rent and deposit to move into an apartment, and the whole family was reunified and housed as a result. The solutions are already within young people, and our role is to provide the resources they need to make the solutions possible.
After months of planning and securing private and public funds, we’re launching the Centralized Diversion Fund this summer in our four Anchor Communities: Pierce, Spokane, Walla Walla, and Yakima. We’ve selected a local organization to administer the funds in each of these communities, and we’re training service providers in each community to engage young people in diversion conversations and request financial assistance from the fund when it’s needed.
With COVID-19 upending the way we work, our team had to get creative and find ways to keep moving towards a summer launch. We believe that the fund is more important than ever in this moment because the pandemic has impacted so many young people’s ability to earn money. It’s a critical time to ensure young people have access to cash, especially with the end of the eviction moratorium looming ahead of us on August 1st. We are on track for service providers to start accessing the fund on July 30, 2020.
When young people can access funds to quickly address their housing crises, they are able to stay out of the homeless system. That in turn preserves resources for young people who have no alternative solutions, and results in faster housing placements within the homeless system. We believe the Centralized Diversion Fund and other cash assistance programs will play a key role in achieving our mission to end youth and young adult homelessness.