Rising to the Challenge team

Ambitious 3-Year Partnership Shows a 44% Reduction in Youth Homelessness

Rising to the Challenge

Three years ago, the City of Boston, community-based partners, Liberty Mutual and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley came together to launch Rising to the Challenge, an ambitious plan to prevent and end homelessness among youth and young adults. What’s been achieved through this partnership over the past three years – and during the height of an unprecedented pandemic – is an inspirational story about what happens when people, programs and sectors work together around a common map of action and vision.    

The shared commitment to meet the housing, education, employment and social emotional needs of youth and young adults resulted in 536 young people finding stable homes through rapid rehousing and supportive housing programs. 

“These numbers, with just a couple of years work, during a pandemic, on an issue that we really hadn’t focused on before, are nothing short of amazing.” — Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing for the City of Boston


Rising to the Challenge event to End Youth Homelessness Boston 2

A snapshot of what we’re celebrating and looking to build upon going forward:  

  • Since 2019, there has been a 44% reduction in individual youth homelessness on the annual point in time count. This count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness takes place each year on a single night in January.
  • Investments in training and staff resources pay off.  Intentional and significant efforts to build the capacity of organizations and city departments through the hiring of new staff and professional development for providers have helped to more successfully identify young people experiencing homelessness and connect them to supportive services.
  • While young people want to meet their most immediate needs, they are future oriented and eager to build toward long-term financial well-being.  Two exciting pilots launched through the Rising to the Challenge are helping participating youth to do just that:  
    • Earlier this year, the Mayor’s Office of Housing launched an employment and savings incentive program for 20 young people who are participating in the City’s rapid rehousing program. Each additional dollar a young person contributes to toward their rent is matched and put into a savings account.  When the young person successfully exits from the rapid rehousing program, they can access the savings account, which reduces their dependency on rental assistance and makes them less likely to return to homelessness. This one-year pilot is being evaluated in collaboration with United Way.
    • The Mayor’s Office of Housing partnered with HomeStart to launch the Boston Youth Flex Fund to provide a small, one-time payment to help young adults move into stable housing as quickly as possible.

What’s next?

United Way, Matt Aronson Consulting, and several other community partners are building off the lessons learned and launching BAY-CASH, a pilot program that will test giving direct cash assistance to young people experiencing homelessness.  Although universal basic income and direct cash transfers have gained some momentum in recent years through programs like the United Way-supported Chelsea Eats and others, young people experiencing homelessness continue to face immense barriers to those resources—including stigma and systemic racism.

“We have an opportunity to be part of a small national cohort of communities that is testing this model with this specific population so that we can learn in community, continue to improve the model, prove efficacy, and scale not only across our region, but across Massachusetts,” said Sam Zito, Vice President, Youth and Young Adult Pathways at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. 

“Rising to the Challenge is one of the key initiatives that has threaded the needle between our housing insecurity and youth pathways work,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Youth and young adult homelessness is a complex social problem with various underlying economic and social factors, such as a lack of affordable housing, physical and mental health issues, and a lack of behavioral health supports and career pathways. 

“It is critical that we ensure our young people have access to strong postsecondary pathways and opportunities, particularly youth and young adults who are disconnected or under-connected. With the right support, they can thrive and be prosperous,” Giannino added. 

Open Table is an offshoot from Rising to the Challenge that is fostering those connections. Funded by the Liberty Mutual Foundation, Open Table brings together youth experiencing homelessness and small groups of community volunteers to build relationships and connections to young people facing poverty, mental and behavioral health challenges, trauma and other barriers to well-being. 

Other opportunities ahead include continued engagement and leadership from young people with lived experience in homelessness, addressing the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic like increased mental health needs, and continued engagement of the community and partners to advance the next phases of work. 

“A lot of need remains, and we really want to stay committed to this population,” said Dillon. “They are our future, and we want to focus on how we can take what we have learned and accomplished together and continue this work in a robust and meaningful way.” 

To learn more or get involved, contact Sam Zito at szito@supportunitedway.org.

Speakers at Rising to the Challenge Boston