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Blue Shield of California Hosts Regional Community Conversations About Youth Homelessness

Here’s a staggering statistic about California: nearly 30% of the 300,000 homeless youth in America live in our state. Yet, two-thirds of California’s counties lack basic services for homeless youth, such as shelters or proven long-term programs that help create the stable environment these young people need to improve their futures. 

Blue Shield  CA Homelessness Graphic

“On any given night in California, 162,000 people are homeless, and out of this population, more than 35,000 are under the age of 18,” said Sandra Rose, senior director, Community and Provider Engagement, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. “Homeless individuals have poorer health on average than those with stable access to housing. Lack of access to medical care can lead to increased risk of illness and disease, and negatively impact wellbeing, both physically and mentally.”  

To better understand and address the root causes of youth homelessness, Blue Shield recently convened three panel discussions. Regional homelessness experts, policy makers, and political leaders gathered to identify the supports needed locally to promote innovative, solutions-oriented policies. 

The panels, organized by Blue Shield’s regional community engagement teams, focused on three regions: San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley, and Southern California. Blue Shield summarized the key findings to inform future actions:  
Common issues among homeless youth
  • Conflicts at home and unstable households contribute to the rise in youth homelessness throughout California. 
  • There is an inadequate level of age-appropriate services and a lack of accessibility to existing resources. 
  • The disproportionate number of youths who are experiencing homelessness are part of the African American or LGBTQ communities; more services must be tailored to meet the needs of these populations.
Proven strategies 
  • Establish youth action boards comprised of those who have the lived experience of youth homelessness to gain better insight about what resources are needed. 
  • Focus funding on programs whose metrics demonstrate proven results. 
  • Provide education and supportive services to foster youth, ahead of their transition out of the care system, so they have pathways to self-sufficiency.  
Preventive and proposed solutions 
  • Elevate the discussion and continue to shine a light on the growing crisis. Without greater visibility, building solutions -- funding and programs alike -- will not be possible.
  • Create youth-focused interim and longer-term housing supports with wrap-around services that focus on behavioral health care and job training. 
  • Engage with those who have lived experiences to advise, inform, and support effective solutions.
  • Provide funding for preventive, upstream services that provide supports, housing, and counseling to youth in crisis before they become homeless.
  • Elevate and fund initiatives that address unique regional challenge vs. a one-size-fits-all approach. Programs should reflect the demographics of homeless youth locally; unhoused youth are more inclined to seek services from organizations they identify with and trust.
Joycelyn Smart-Sanchez, senior manager of Social Services, Blue Shield, participated in all the panels, along with community leaders from the three regions: 
  • San Francisco Bay Area: Supervisor Dave Brown, Alameda County; Sherilyn Adams, executive director, Larkin Street Youth Services; Dontae Lartigue, co-founder/executive director, Razing the Bar
  • Central Valley: Terry Withrow, Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, District 3; Miguel Perez, executive director, Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance; Nykiah Cornish, youth coordinator, Women’s Center-Youth & Family Services
  • Southern California: Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr., San Bernardino County; Mary C. Wickham, executive director, Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, Los Angeles; Megan Marashlian, director for advocacy, Voices for Children, San Diego
“Blue Shield of California is committed to addressing the most pressing issues that impact the health and well-being of the communities we serve, especially the growing crisis of youth mental health issues,” said Rose. “Through continued collaboration with advocates, youth leaders, and policy makers, we are working to create a healthier and more prosperous future for our youth in communities across California.”