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Summit Youth Photo

2022 YVAC Summit, When Youth Exact Change

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Miami-Dade’s affordable housing crisis took center stage at this year’s Youth Voice Action Council (YVAC) Summit. The summit is dedicated to ending youth homelessness. YVAC serves as Miami-Dade’s Youth Action Board and is made up of young people ages 18-24, including youth who have experienced homelessness.

YVAC organizes and conducts the annual iCount, a census of youth experiencing homelessness in Miami-Dade. Since organizing in 2017, YVAC volunteers have advocated for numerous measures, including tuition waivers and community IDs as a means to better support unaccompanied youth, and have spoken out again the criminalization of homelessness.

YVAC’s input on policy-making and programming helps to shape the system of care serving unaccompanied youth. Members serve as subject-matter experts and inform the Housing Our Miami-Dade Youth, or HOMY, collective. The HOMY collective is a collaborative of more than 100 organizations and youth leaders working to prevent and end youth homelessness in Miami-Dade. Miami Homes for All (MHFA), in partnership with the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, helped lead the collective impact model that is solving the complex problem that is youth homelessness.

We sat down with Lee Vassell, the Youth Homelessness Program Director for MHFA, and Melanie (Mel) Ramirez, co-facilitator for the YVAC Summit, to discuss efforts to end youth homelessness.

Lee, Miami Homes for All, and the Homeless Trust are the backbone of the YVAC. Share how the program works.

“YVAC serves as advisors and youth consultants to both HOMY and the Homeless Trust. YVAC is included on all HOMY committee meetings to share their experiences to inspire future policies and their thoughts on policies currently in the making.

In addition, MHFA provides YVAC workshops from partner agencies and community organizations to aid them in their personal and professional growth.”

Lee continued to share how a different cohort of five youths participate on the YVAC board each year. We wondered how they are selected and if lived experience plays a part in their role.

“The number varies year by year, but we put out an application asking about their experience and qualifications. Then, a committee of interviewers is formed from the  MHFA team and HOMY committee members.

All applicants have lived experience of housing insecurity. We specify this on the application form. By prioritizing youth with lived experience, we ensure those impacted by the system have a way of having their voices heard.”

Mel, how does the YVAC act as an advisor to HOMY?

“We share our perspectives on how different strategies and policies may be received and applied to youth’s lives. We use our experiences to provide insight that will eventually affect future decisions made by service providers.”

Is YVAC proactively creating systems change that will have a tangible effect within the continuum of care and Miami Dade county?

“Yes, in addition to recommending youth access points to make resources for youth more accessible, we have also successfully advocated for a state law that creates a uniform homeless tuition waiver policy, which allowed more homeless youth to access higher education opportunities. We are now in the process of trying to create a 24/7 youth helpline.”

During the Summit, YVAC advocated for the needs of homeless youth in the community. Mel, what are some issues that will be addressed this year?

“Our cohort is specifically concerned about the well-being of parenting youth and access to childcare. We want to see more youth-specific and trauma-informed resources in our system. We also want more supportive housing given we’re in an affordable housing crisis in Miami Dade.”

As Mel continued to share her experiences with us, we wondered how the evolution she has seen within the YVAC program and what is still to come.

“I’m excited about the revamp of YVAC we’re doing. YVAC is expanding in numbers and is going to have a lot more leadership and advocacy opportunities. We’ll be speaking to elected official a lot more. The HOMY committee meetings will have a specific time slot for YVAC to share our concerns.”

For more about YVAC, visit The Homy Collective.