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Don’t Leave Money on the Table: JBF’s Homeless Youth Capacity Project Accepting Applications until This Friday, December 2nd

November 29, 2011

By Amy Lemley

As you may have seen in your email in-box this week, the Corporation for Supportive Housing has released a $2.8 million Request for Proposal for housing with coordinated health services for low-income people with chronic health challenges, like repeated inpatient hospitalizations, and emergency room visits.

As I read the RFP, I wondered how these funds could help homeless youth. After all, the over 200,000 homeless youth in California have no shortage of chronic health problems, including disproportionate rates of substance abuse, poor mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and poor oral health. After suffering years of limited access to health care, many homeless youth have the health of a 50 year old.

The need is clearly there–yet, I worry that few homeless youth providers will pursue this wonderful funding opportunity. Why?  There are two main reasons

For one, homeless youth organizations in California lack administrative infrastructure. Two years ago, the John Burton Foundation launched the Homeless Youth Capacity Building Project, to strengthen the ability of nonprofit providers to serve homeless youth. We wanted homeless youth providers to become successful applicants for large, federal housing grants, such as those provided by HUD.  And many were.

The second is a skepticism in our community about big pots of public funding.

For some, it’s about control: if I take public funding, I won’t get to do things my way. I will have to compromise the quality of our program’s services and my organization will be less effective. My response is simple: public dollars are your tax dollars. If they are good enough to fund wars overseas, they are certainly good enough to help homeless youth here at home.

For others, the concern is that these large grants have too many administrative hoops, too many hurdles. For this, I have an even blunter response: let’s challenge ourselves to work as hard as the youth we serve.

To stay afloat, homeless youth must navigate a literal labyrinth of issues, including limited access to public assistance, the rising cost of higher education, unaffordable housing, regular threats to their physical and mental health, and minimal job prospects. And yet, we are complaining about too many hoops and hurdles?  Really?

As a former Executive Director, I understand why these grants are often overwhelming and unappealing, yet we cannot leave money on the table while we wait for fewer administrative burdens.  For one, that’s not fair to kids who need help now, and for another is that it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. More complexity, not less, is what I see on the horizon.

In California, we are fortunate to have a rich network of homeless youth providers who are providing excellent service to some of the hardest to serve individuals. We owe it to them to reach out and take the resources on offer.  I think we can do it, and if you don’t think you can, give me a call and I’ll see if I can convince you.  Or better yet, apply to the Homeless Youth Capacity Building Project yourself. The project will be providing a cohort of organizations with technical assistance over the course of one year that will enable them to land big grants like the one being offered by CSH. The deadline’s this Friday!

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