Melissa Alvarez Capstone

In October of 2015, NBC 10 was airing an investigation about youth homelessness in Philadelphia. It was after a mere 45 minutes that I realized how much we DON'T talk about the hundreds of youth in our city who are living without a home. I knew then and there what I wanted my capstone to be about. 
Since my junior year, I have been an active member of the Philadelphia Youth Commission. The Commission has 21 members of youth who are elected to represent their respective City Council district and Councilperson. One of the many things we do is host monthly meetings on topics that affect youth, so I used this as a partnering opportunity for my project. I wanted to have a meeting about youth homelessness, but nothing like we've had before. My objective was to change the location, provide refreshments for the first time, expand our audience, and have a legitimate call to action when we were done. 
A difficulty I faced was the new Mayoral transition happening in City Hall, which is where I wanted to have my meeting. We couldn't lock down a location until two weeks before the meeting was supposed to happen, but we were eventually lucky enough to book Conversation Hall. After attending a public hearing that happened on April 29th about the same topic, I introduced myself to some of the people who testified and convinced them to be speakers at my meeting. 
On May 11th, we had roughly 50 attendees including youth groups, commissioners, and people who work with at-risk youth. My speakers included Ms. Helen Fitzpatrick - Director of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia and John Ducoff - Director of Covenant House PA. I asked Ms. Fitzpatrick to speak about the work she does for the city because 54% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. That's more than half, and was something I felt needed to be a larger part of the conversation. We were also lucky enough to have Mr. Ducoff because Covenant House is Philadelphia's most well known homeless shelter for youth. This had to be a collaborative conversation about what we could all do to help face the issue of youth homelessness. 
When it was over, everyone left the room with something they'd never learned up until that meeting. It seemed like doing a sleep out in front of City Hall was one of the most effective ways we could contribute. It not only helps to raise awareness, but has raised over $50,000 in the past, and it's something we plan to do in the near future as our call to action. 

Blog Link: To read more about my capstone process and view pictures from the meeting, click here
Annotated Bibliography: 

Morgan Zalot and Vince Lattanzio. "Faces of Homeless Youth." NBC 10 Philadelphia. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

NBC 10 created a short documentary about the homeless youth in Philadelphia. They interviewed 5 different youth who shared their story about how they ended up without homes. It was originally what inspired me to choose the capstone that I did. I would like to have one or two of these youth speak at my meeting. This documentary made me realize just how unprioritized the topic of youth homelessness is in the City of Philadelphia, and how we aren’t doing enough to service them like we should. A lot of them unfortunately do not trust the system and by choice end up on the street because it’s where they feel safe. This is a stigma we need to change and is a crucial part of my meeting’s purpose.

Soto, Joy D. "Philadelphia Youth Commission." Philadelphia Youth Commission Home Comments. City of Philadelphia, Sept. 2008. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

The Philadelphia Youth Commission is an office created by the mayor for youth between the ages of 12 and 23 years old who represent their respective councilpeople. I happen to be on the Youth Commission and would like to use it as a resource for my capstone. We hold monthly meetings on topics that affect youth. We have four committees: Health and Recreation, Jobs and Economics, Education, and Public Safety. My meeting will be relative to all four of these committees and I plan to work with them during the planning of my project. They will each be crucial to forming an accurate presentation for the people attending my meeting.

"Philadelphia County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau." Philadelphia County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce, Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.

A large part of my meeting will include presenting statistics about youth in the city. The U.S. census for the city of Philadelphia each year helps me to keep track of how many youth are currently living in the city. Right now we are working with more than 300,000 youth, and the percentage of them that are living in poverty are homeless. There are many that are homeless and undocumented because they choose daily whether or not they want to be a part of the system or take their chances living on the streets which for many is the safer option they feel. Documenting the numbers is very important to my presentation and these facts will be useful to that.

"Facts on Homelessness." Project HOME. Project Home, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.

Project home is a website that presents information about homelessness. On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness. That’s over half a million people documented. There are thousands in this country who aren’t even accounted for and those are numbers we simply cannot stand for anymore. This website presents factual information about how many people are currently homeless, why they end up homeless, and what’s being done to help them. This will be one of the options for facts I’ll be putting in my presentation.

"Mission & Vision." Northern Children's Services. City of Philadelphia, 13 May 2015. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

The work done at Northern Children’s Services is designed to create a better future for their clients who are primarily young mothers and their children. They believe that every child has the potential to transform him or herself – no matter their background or life situations. If they invest in that potential through services that focus on care, safety, health, permanency, independence, and positive relationships, the children will lead happier and healthy lives. These are one of many home options youth do not currently know about that I would like to present in my meeting.

Munoz, Judith. "Shalom Inc." Shalom Inc. City of Philadelphia, n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Shalom, Inc. is a school and community-based private, non-profit, non-sectarian agency. They offer a variety of professional prevention, intervention and treatment services through our community-based program. Shalom Inc.'s mission is to encourage resiliency, character building, and recovery through prevention, intervention and counseling services for children, adolescents and adults. My mom used to work at Shalom Inc. and they offer counseling for youth who are troubled at home or who are part of the juvenile detention agency. Not only did I pick this because of its relevance to my capstone, but also because my mom is an affiliate with this organization whom I hope to partner with for my capstone.

Farr, Stephannie. "Shelter Shooting Leaves 1 Worker Dead, 1 Hurt." Shelter Shooting Leaves 1 Worker Dead, 1 Hurt., 17 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.

This article will be one of the prime topics in my presentation. A huge part of why youth are choosing to be homeless and living on the street is because they simply do not trust the system anymore. The shelters have proven to not be safe. A person was shot and killed by a previous resident, yet these are the place we’re telling our youth to go? It’s unsafe and many would rather live on their own than to ever have to endure an experience like that. Shelters may offer a roof, but they do not offer safety. They are not homes and that’s the issue. We need to bridge that gap of trust between the homeless and the system so that they can get the help they deserve, but not by providing them unsafe living quarters. And unfortunately a lot of it has to do with the budget in the city. There simply isn’t a lot of money. So this is something I’d like to talk about in my meeting.

Turcios, Melissa. "Why My Neighborhood Kids Don't Trust the System." Audio blog post. Youth Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.

I thought this podcast was really interesting because it centers on a woman who’s neighborhood kids who are primarily Black and Latino. They early on knew what the sound of gunshots were. After a nearby shooting happened, police showed up not long after and were asking the kids questions, but they were very reluctant to be cooperative with the police officers who were asking questions about what happened. At so early on, kids are taught not to trust the system in fear of repercussions that may follow. This was in Washington D.C., but is something that is happening in cities all over the country, especially Philadelphia. Early on our kids are being taught to keep quiet in order to survive in their own neighborhood. The system has been backwards like this for quite some time, and it’s something I’d like to talk about in my capstone.

McElroy, Molly. "Intervention to Improve Foster Families’ Trust, Connectedness." UW Today. University of Washington, 12 June 2012. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

This article was written by the University of Washington about advice for new foster parents. Often kids are just looking for a safe place to call home. They’ve grown up in a system that is known to give them trouble and often do not feel comfortable trusting new people. This is the biggest thing they should attempt to build with these youth. Allow them to trust. Most adolescents in foster care simply need a stable home life that provides a sense of belonging, love and someone who shows a genuine interest in their lives. If there is no shared history, it might be harder for them to make that connection which is why you should be open and allow them time to connect with you on their own personal level. This is something I’d like to bring up at the end of my presentation; What we’re doing wrong, and what we can do to mend the issues.

"Mission & History." The Attic Youth Center. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

The Attic Youth Center creates opportunities for LGBTQ youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults within a safe and supportive community, and promotes the acceptance of LGBTQ youth in society. The Attic Youth Center has been really important in my research because over 54% of homeless youth in Philadelphia identify as LGBTQ. That’s more than half, and not many people recognize this statistic. Families that are unaccepting of their children’s sexuality or gender preferences are often the reason many of them end up homeless. There aren’t many programs specifically provided for the safety of LGBTQ youth, and Attic Youth Center is one of the very few. I would like someone from the Attic Youth Center to come speak at the meeting and/or be a part of the conversation and give a different perspective on the conversation of youth homelessness and things we can do to help. This source is the Attic Youth Center home website explaining their mission and purpose which can be brought up at the meeting as a resource to youth.