Unplugged: Tackling Youth Homelessness

There are about 6,800 young homeless people under the age of 24 in New York, but many advocates believe that number is low, considering youth homelessness is often overlooked.* Undercounting the population can lead to fewer social services for at-risk youth and there are challenges with programs that are restricted by age and gender.

On Tuesday at Two Sigma’s offices, Robin Hood held an Unplugged featuring speakers discussing youth homelessness — the challenges and opportunities for helping this particularly vulnerable population find stability and housing.

Laura Mascuch, the executive director of The Supportive Housing Network of New York, an advocacy organization, moderated a panel that included Skye Adrian and Nicole Giannone of the Ali Forney Center, which provides LGBTQ youth with housing and services, and Elizabeth Garcia of Good Shepherd Services, an organization focused on helping at-risk youth. All three of the organizations are funded by Robin Hood.

Panelist Skye Adrian had spent two years in homelessness after coming out to his parents. Adrian had heard about the Ali Forney Center through word of mouth and he visited an intake center where he met Nicole Giannone. Together, they described the homeless youth population as a group that can be difficult to identify. There are intersections with other systems, including foster care.

“One thousand people age out of foster care annually,” Mascuch noted.

Elizabeth Garcia, of Good Shepherd Services, said she believes that advocacy depends on building a coordinated effort. Victims of abuse and neglect are making a difficult decision when they leave their household. “We’re trying to create choices to widen the system so that young people can have a say in where they end up.”

Accelerating the process and creating targeted plans can improve the effectiveness of services. Garcia explained that the Department of Youth & Community Development funds a continuum of services for runaway homeless youth, but only to the age of 21.

“Programs are frantically placing people in the months leading up to their twenty-first birthday,” said Giannone, who is worried that the lack of affordable and permanent housing options can cycle young people into long-term homelessness.

“Someone under 21 may be able to find housing within a week. But for those ages 21–24, it may take six months to a year to find a bed,” said Adrian, who navigated the system with the help of the Ali Forney Center.

Outreach programs are available to connect youth with services and there is a drop-in center in every borough, one of which is open 24 hours a day. Crisis centers allow short term residence from 30–60 days and transitional living programs can provide services for up to 18 months.

To address the city-wide crisis, Nicole remains hopeful that Mayor Bill de Blasio will follow through on the city’s plan to increase the number of available shelter beds. Currently, there are about 550 beds for people ages 16 to 20 and there’s a plan to increase the availability by 200. There is significant progress in the city’s legislative efforts to increase access and to extend age limits for service.

Along with advocacy, organizations are working to raise awareness to homeless youth of the services they provide. Adrian said he was surprised to hear people say they wanted to be just like him, and that he hopes to continue being someone people can relate to and depend upon for help.


Robin Hood & Homeless Youth: In 2016 Robin Hood’s youth programs helped nearly 6,000 disconnected young New Yorkers earn their high school equivalency diploma, 800 of whom also secured jobs.

About the Panelists’ Organizations

  • The Supportive Housing Network of New York is a membership-based organization of non-profit supportive housing developers and social services providers.
  • The Ali Forney Center provides LGBTQ homeless youth with a continuum of supportive services and transitional housing.
  • Good Shepherd Services is a youth development, education, and family service agency that protects at-risk youth.

The Robin Hood Unplugged series offers a deeper glimpse into poverty in New York City and the work that Robin Hood is doing to help our neighbors in need. Speakers include top philanthropic leaders, executive directors from Robin Hood funded programs, and Robin Hood staff members. Each gathering focuses on a specific topic and fosters an atmosphere that promotes questions and thoughtful discussion. If you are interested in attending, please email info@robinhood.org.

* New York City Youth Count Report, 2016

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