SPARK Initiative – Youth Supporting Youth
San Francisco has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless youth in the country. Gaps in the systems designed to care for vulnerable young people—child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice, for example—too often result in youth falling through holes in the safety nets. 40 percent of all foster youth will experience homelessness in their lifetime and 20 percent will be classified as chronically homeless within two years after leaving foster care.
Preventing homelessness is one of the key strategies of our Chronic Homelessness Initiative. As part of this effort, we have partnered with On The Move, experts in youth engagement, to develop the SPARK (Stable Pathways to Achievement, Resilience, and Knowledge) Initiative. SPARK, led by young people who have experienced and overcome homelessness, identifies and helps tackle systemic barriers. SPARK youth serve as peer mentors, connecting homeless youth to services and forging relationships that create opportunities for stability.
Read on to learn more about the effort and meet one of SPARK’s peer mentors.
All my best,
CEO + Founder, Tipping Point Community
Snapshot: SPARK Initiative – Youth Supporting Youth
The SPARK Initiative has developed collaborative teams that together help locate, engage, and support youth who interacted with the child welfare system and are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. The collaborative teams include three key roles: lawyers, social workers, and peer mentors.
As of January, the peer mentors have worked with 340 homeless youth in San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties, building relationships and connecting these young people to case management, as well as legal, housing, and mental health services. Working with youth to set realistic and achievable goals, SPARK takes a holistic approach to the youth's circumstances while helping them obtain or maintain housing.
Data collection is a core element of the SPARK Initiative. There are currently no data sets in the Bay Area (or anywhere else) tracking the intersection of child welfare involvement and homelessness. Tipping Point’s investment will contribute to a new database, built in partnership with University of Southern California, that will offer an accurate picture of the needs of homeless foster youth and enable service providers to enhance their efforts.
As part of connecting homeless youth to services, the collaborative team’s lawyers have helped their SPARK clients leverage approximately $1 million dollars annually in federal, state, and local funds for services. The SPARK team is hoping to partner with the public sector to adopt and maintain the program into the future.
Who's Making It Happen
"We’re filling a huge gap between homeless youth and the services available to them. SPARK is the bridge.”
– Sema’J Wyatt, SPARK Peer Mentor
As a SPARK peer mentor, Sema’J Wyatt uses her own experience with homelessness to help others. Sema’J was in foster care from age 2, fostered her four younger siblings, and became homeless upon aging out of the foster care system at 17. She and the other SPARK peer mentors have made meaningful connections with hundreds of youth. They’ve also contributed important learnings to improve the program, such as data collection that includes the needs of pregnant youth and adjusting the timeline of the data collection to account for the time it takes to build trust. Through SPARK, Sema’J has had the opportunity to develop her skills and leadership talents. This December, Sema’J will be studying abroad in Liberia with Planting a Seed International, which has invited her to speak to their Board about meeting the needs of inner-city students.
What We're Reading
California has the largest foster care population in the country. A comprehensive report evaluating outcomes for our state’s foster youth found that 36 percent of respondents in foster care had experienced homelessness while in care.
Founded by Tipping Point’s Law + Policy Director Brian Blalock, Bay Area Legal Aid’s youth law unit has published a report on youth homelessness which emphasizes the importance of including youth engagement and field learnings in program and training design.
Chronic Homelessness Initiative Overview
There are approximately 2,100 people experiencing chronic homelessness on any given night in San Francisco. Tipping Point’s $100 million pledge marks the single largest private investment to address homelessness in City history.
Tipping Point takes a three-pronged approach to our impact goal. See here for more details. If you are receiving this email as a forward, subscribe here to receive this update monthly.