In 2016, the Youth Action Hub completed a study that examined young people’s experiences with trying to access housing services through a helpline used as the state’s coordinated entry point for housing services. The purpose of the study was to improve access to housing resources for young people in Connecticut. A total of 200 young people (ages 14-24 years old) across the state of Connecticut were recruited to participate in this studythrough direct outreach, peer-to-peer referral, and referral by case managers of social service agencies. The research used a rigorous mixed-method design. Participants completed an anonymous online survey and/or participated in a focus group discussion.
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- More than 50% of young people are not aware of 2-1-1.
- Many young people reported that they would not use a helpline to get information or help when they needed it.
- Young people are more likely to use other means to get help before using helplines.
- Young people prefer to talk with someone that they know, like friends, peers, teachers, guidance counselors, mentors, or other people that they trust and interact with regularly. Unfortunately, however, the study found that these people do not typically have the information or knowledge needed to help the young person access resources.
- The youth felt strongly that current services and providers can be impersonal, and that when they are in crisis what they need most is guidance and support. Youth mentioned that they wanted to meet with someone face to face because they found it difficult to build trust over the phone.
- Youth prefer to talk to the same person and not have to retell their story.
- Nearly half of survey respondents who had experienced housing instability reported that a lack of reliable transportation made it difficult to access housing or shelter resources.
- Young people experience barriers getting the help they need and so require follow-ups, more personalized help, and guidance.
Recommendations based on study findings:
- Raise awareness of points of access (including 2-1-1) and the resources that are available to young people. Results highlight the need for being proactive since less than half of young people in our study had heard of 211. To reach young people, especially minors, we must engage the school system, and coordinate with McKinney-Vento Liaisons who seek resources and supports for unstably housed students in school. Minors are less likely to reach out to helplines and more likely to talk to friends or people that they regularly interact with.
- Increase points of access for young people to obtain housing resources and other services. It is important to ensure that youth have multiple ways to access help. Allow specific youth organizations (access centers, youth housing providers) who are specialized in working with youth and who are familiar with local resources to connect youth to services and assessments. Expand web presence and design websites for younger audiences with less technical language. 211 has created a youth portal which will provide relevant resources in an easy to use format.
- Create a youth-specialist team at 2-1-1. To address young people’s need for consistency in speaking to someone and their need to build trust with someone, we recommend creating a Youth Specialist Team at 211, trained to work directly with youth. A small team of resource experts also gives the added benefit of consistency, and a more personal and longer term relationship with a person they can relate to. Participants from our study have expressed a desire to know more about the people that are helping them and suggest that the addition of online profiles would help them relate.
- Expand mobile crisis intervention services. We recommend implementing a mobile unit, similar to the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services or EMPS or the Homeless Outreach Teams funded by DMHAS, to increase outreach to youth in order to meet youth on location when they are in crisis. This compensates for many young people’s lack of transportation and addresses all three of the aspects identified by youth as necessary for a successful information and referral system.
- Create Youth Navigators for unstably housed young people. Our recommendation is that after the assessment, the young person would be introduced in-person to a Youth Navigator who would sit down with them to map out their needs and develop a longer-term plan. Youth Navigators would follow up with youth and help them overcome barriers to getting services (such as transportation and documentation) and become the bridge between multiple service organizations to coordinate services and streamline the process for young people. With follow up and tracking, Youth Navigators could become the anchors in a more centralized system, and enter information into the service provider database (called HMIS) to track and document individual’s entry, service needs, referrals, and service engagement. This allows for evaluation and identification of barriers and breakdowns in the process for youth. In addition, this makes follow-ups an integral component of a self-sustaining I & R system.
Study findings and recommendations were shared with partners, including the CT Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein.