Teenage years are a turbulent time for most, and as young adults begin to enter their early 20s it can become a complicated journey to find ones place in the world.
Even with a stable living arrangement it can be a difficult age to navigate, but for those who are chronically homeless the focus transitions from self-discovery to survival.
For young people in that situation and who have aged out of the foster care system, ACTION-Housing began My Place, a program for young adults between the ages of 18-24 to provide rapid rehousing, employment, and mental health support for those who are homeless or are at risk.
These young adults stay in the program for up to 24 months in a 1-bedroom apartment in the Pittsburgh area and the goal is to enable the participants to ultimately live independent, self-sufficient lives. Since 1957, the organization has been assisting individuals and families in difficult situations. Within the past year, the My Place program has helped 49 young adults.
This spring, New Sun Rising was contracted by ACTION-Housing to build upon the success of My Place to provide increased support for residents’ employment stability, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The program is delivered through three workshops a month with individual artists Quaishawn Whitlock of 1stLayer, Lashawn Reed of Strong Ambitious Women, and Emily Marko.
“We’re meeting them where they’re at,” said Jamie Johnson, My Place Program Coordinator and Manager of Performance Improvement at NSR.
“Some have goals of wanting to be business owners and some need employment right now, but they’re also dealing with personal things like mental health issues and learning disabilities,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to help them develop stable employment to maintain a living situation on their own.”
Those involved in the program do so voluntarily, which Johnson said can raise issues about attendance consistency, but she, the artists, and Lead Facilitator Brettney Duck of G.O. girls have been putting in the effort to develop trust and transparency.
The program staff focus on four development initiatives: planning, connectivity, resources, and identity. Lashawn Reed of Strong Ambitious Women said she touches these four areas, but mainly she is working with the young adults on creating identity.
The main age demographic that Reed works with is usually in 5th or 6th grades, and that can be easier to instill confidence and “plant the seed.” Its been more challenging to work with young adults who have already “made up their mind” about who they are.
“Now you have to convince them that they can be that confident person,” Reed said.
She uses her self-esteem building and strength based services to coach those in the program on creating a brand and teaches them how self-worth and confidence can impact their businesses. All three of the artists are small business owners, which gives them a chance to talk honestly about their own entrepreneurial journeys during their workshops.
Johnson said they have a steady group of three to five youths in the program. Up to 10 young adults are able to join My Place, but the smaller group has worked out well and staff has been able to give enough attention to each individual to work through their personal and entrepreneurial endeavors.
“They’re a resilient bunch of young adults,” Johnson said. “I feel like as long as we can make an impact and help [them], we are happy regardless of the number.”