September is National Suicide Prevention Month. (Courtesy of National Alliance to End Homelessness)
Courtesy of National Alliance to End Homelessness

Since County Executive Angela Alsobrooks took office in December of 2018, her administration has upheld the standard of prioritizing the needs of all county residents, with a focus on protections for those identified who are facing the greatest social, economic and health challenges.

One example is youth facing homelessness. This is a growing issue affecting communities across the country, and Prince George’s County is no exception.

The United States Federal Government offers a broad definition of youth homelessness as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” and further categorizes this group into literally homeless, imminent risk of homelessness, homeless under other federal statutes, and fleeing/attempting to flee domestic violence. Homeless youth have been found to have a higher risk of mental, physical, and behavioral problems, school dropout, unemployment, sexual harassment and assault, and unplanned pregnancy.

By identifying the need in the local community to address and focus on disconnected and unaccompanied homeless youth, the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services has led tremendous efforts to mitigate this issue. Since 2016, over 550 new homeless youth have been assisted by county shelters and programs in addition to the youth who continue to be served by Prince George’s County.

“Promise Prince George’s,” an initiative launched to end youth homelessness, has been bolstered by a 3.5-million-dollar grant provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). This program was designed to make a high impact in selected communities nationwide. Prince George’s County was one of 23 recipients nationwide to receive YHDP funding. The grant requires community engagement in creating and executing a plan to combat and end youth homelessness. This crucial increase in funding was an amazing win for Director Gloria Brown Burnett and her team at the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services in their fight to support young people in crisis.

Through what will be a community planning process, not only will the YHDP funding be used as an intervention, but it will also be targeted to helping at-risk young adults achieve success in their lives. The funding will expand the pre-existing work done by the county targeting young people ages 10-24 in the areas of housing assistance, job training, and education. United States Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Congressman Anthony Brown, have all expressed their support for the work and exciting potential this opportunity brings to Prince George’s County youth.

This grant accompanies other significant efforts by the County’s Department of Health and Human Services, led by Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Dr. George L. Askew, to support youth and end youth homelessness. In 2012, Prince George’s County opened Promise Place to address the significant need for resources in the community. Prince George’s County recently joined Las Vegas, NV, Miami, FL, Sacramento, CA, and Cook County, IL, in its completion of the 100-day challenge on Youth Homelessness. This challenge is part of a movement that aims to end youth homelessness through a framework that accelerates progress through higher education and development and lends support to local officials. The Youth REACH (Reach out, Engage, Assist & Count) MD program has also been implemented in the county to survey and collect information on the homeless youth in the county.

These dedicated efforts by Prince George’s County are sending a powerful message to youth in crisis: we see you and we are here to help.

Anu Pulapaka is the Fall 2019 intern to the Health, Human Services and Education team in the Office of the County Executive for Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing a degree in Neurobiology and Physiology with a minor in Spanish. She dreams of becoming a physician to combine her interests in the natural sciences with her desire to serve her community.

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This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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