The National Association for Education of Homeless Children and Youth kicked off a three-year initiative to improve education and employment services for homeless children and youths in the Tri-Cities area Tuesday with a brainstorming session with about 75 representatives of nonprofit and government service agencies.
Patricia Julianelle, legal director for NAEHCY, told the group aligned through the local Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness that the Tri-Cities is one of nine communities nationwide that will take part in the project. The area was selected based on criteria including the large number of homeless students who attend public schools in the region and a disproportionately high call volume from the 423 area code to the National Runaway Switchboard.
Julianelle said the purpose of the NAEHCY initiative is to coordinate and improve services to help unaccompanied homeless children and youths meet their education and employment goals and to create a program model for improvement of service delivery that can be used to help homeless children and youths across the country.
In light of that goal, she said, “more than anything else, the Tri-Cities was selected because of the infrastructure that already exists between agencies here through (their) work with ARCH.”
To begin the project, Julianelle said NAECHY conducted an online survey of employees at ARCH’s member agencies and the unaccompanied homeless children and youth they serve to determine what services both groups see as most important to helping them achieve their education and employment goals and what barriers prevent them from receiving those services.
Based on the survey responses, NAEHCY developed a list of five priority areas of service — transportation, job training, food, medical and dental care and stable housing — that Julianelle asked the ARCH members to brainstorm in small groups and produce a written “wish list” of improvements for her to work on until she returns to the area in a few months.
“You will be writing my job description,” she said as the ARCH members began their break-out sessions on each of the priority areas of service.
After gathering the groups’ input, Julianelle said, “We do not want to stop here. I invite you to sign up to continue working together on a youth committee that will be a sort of subcommittee of ARCH with me as your committee staffer.”
She encouraged committee members to stay in contact with her at her Washington area office and promised to reciprocate with a summary of the suggestions for improvements gathered at Tuesday’s meeting and a follow-up report on her progress on a plan to implement those improvements.
“I would like for all of us to come together again in the fall and see how well we’re doing and if we have had any successes. I believe we will have successes,” Julianelle said.
ARCH board member Don Minor said the coalition’s electronic data system is tracking 4,860 homeless individuals in Northeast Tennessee who are receiving services from the coalition’s member agencies. Of that number, he said, approximately 2,500 are children and teens under age 18.