May 16, 2016

How is it that more than 600 young people from ages 12-25 are homeless on the streets of Maricopa County today? The short answer is abuse. Most are escaping families deteriorating from substance abuse, neglect, physical violence or sexual abuse, or exiting from foster care with nowhere to go. Many identify as LGBTQ and are alienated from family due to their sexual orientation. Re-traumatized by homelessness, they suffer anxiety about their safety and food supply, can’t keep clean or rest well, and are susceptible to crime and sex traffickers.

Tumbleweed helps house them and begin a transition to stable young adulthood. It is challenging, rewarding work. Some of our youth go on to college, good jobs and healthy relationships.  Some slip into despair, addiction and self harm.  Some experience it all.

One thing is for certain: Homeless youth are different from homeless adults.

That’s why it is disheartening to learn the federal government is taking money from the type of housing that works with homeless young  people, and moving it to programs fewer young people can access.

Here’s what I mean:  federal bureaucrats say “supportive permanent housing” (SPH) will now get the lion’s share of federal homeless housing dollars because SPH tends to end homelessness for adults and families.  “Transitional housing,” a temporary home where clients learn skills or get the care they need to be self-sufficient, is less successful in ending homelessness.  “It works,” a federal spokesperson said of SPH.


Three Tumbleweed youth outside the Tumbleweed Learning Center.

But that doesn’t mean it works for everybody, and certainly not for all youth.  Transitional housing at Tumbleweed is different. We run things in a way that might seem familiar to you, an echo of parental guidance when we were that age:  you qualify for rental assistance in Tumbleweed-operated housing  under certain conditions, such as taking care of the place, saving money, following the rules, having a job or  staying in school.  We help our young people with jobs and school placements, and we keep careful track of how they are doing.

Young people growing into adulthood need this kind of guidance, especially homeless youth with a background of trauma and no family support. “It works” applies to this program as well.

Shifting of Housing and Urban Development funding to SPH this spring left many homeless housing programs in the Valley without funding.  This imminent crisis is the subject of an urgent letter to Arizona’s congressional delegation signed by many homeless care providers, including Tumbleweed.

Fortunately, our transitional programs will continue in the coming fiscal year, though the future is uncertain.  We will keep encouraging our local MAG Continuum of Care Committee and Board to recommend transitional housing for youth to federal funders.

The fact is that 60% of our homeless youth were born in the Valley.  These are our kids. Though federal funding is very important, our community needs churches, civic groups and  community members  like you to support Tumbleweed and help end youth homelessness in the Valley.

Cynthia Schuler, Esq.

Chief Executive officer

Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development