Advocacy @ UC: Ending Youth Homelessness in Cincinnati

UCCOM students (from left) Tatiana Capizzano, Haidn Foster, Glen McClain and David Christopherson present a check to LYS staff

Earlier this month, several UCCOM AMA members took a short break from finals week studying to visit Lighthouse Youth and Family Services (LYS), a local organization serving homeless youth. Second-year medical students Tatiana Capizzano, Haidn Foster, and David Christopherson and first-year medical student Glen McClain made the trip across town to the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth, where they met Meredith Hicks, Senior Director of Policy and Partnership for LYS. Meredith spoke both about UCCOM AMA’s ongoing partnership with LYS and how LYS is redesigning the homeless youth system in an effort to ensure all youth have a home.

Throughout the this year, Tatiana Capizzano, UCCOM AMA’s Service Chair, has worked diligently with LYS to implement a homeless youth screening survey in emergency departments across Cincinnati. “I reached out to LYS and told them that I wanted to involve UCCOM in policy improvement locally in the community,” Tatiana shared. “[Meredith] mentioned the disconnect between their services and UC’s ED. I offered to make contact and find out if we could work out a way for the Emergency Department to collaborate with LYS on screening for homeless youth.”

For Meredith, the project serves as a unique way to reach homeless youth that otherwise would not access services through LYS. “We know that a lot of people experiencing homelessness, regardless of age, are showing up in emergency departments for healthcare, so it is a great place to reach them and get them connected to resources.”

The survey, which has already been implemented in five local hospitals, will collect valuable information about housing stability, food insecurity, and access to transportation, from those experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati. The resulting data will be managed by The Health Collaborative, a Cincinnati think tank working to improve healthcare delivery. LYS plans to use the results of the survey to better understand the needs of the homeless youth population in order to be more focused in their approach to reach every homeless young adult in the area.

In addition to their partnership with UC’s Emergency Department, LYS provides a myriad of services designed to remove barriers that young adults may face in regards to housing, healthcare, and stability. The Lighthouse Sheakley Center, their large, multi-purpose headquarters, is equipped with nearly 38 emergency beds and 34 apartments available to youth experiencing homelessness. It also has a resource center so that any young adult can use computers, take showers, work with case managers, or search for jobs–all in one place.

Though they have nearly 40 homeless individuals sleeping at the Center on any given night, Lighthouse is determined to prevent youth from having to use their shelter in the first place.

“We are trying to modify different elements of our system, particularly prevention, in order to stop the problem before youth need a place to stay,” emphasized Meredith. “And then, once they are in shelter, we want to serve them efficiently such that they are in permanent housing as soon as possible.”

According to Meredith, one of the key tenets of Lighthouse’s plan is diversion. In fact, they’ve developed a particular diversion tool to help youth understand if there is anyone with whom they can stay rather than come to shelter. “Is a barrier to staying with grandma that grandma can’t pay for utilities or groceries?” Meredith asked. “Well, using funds through our tool, we would be able to support them with money and case management so that they would stay out of the traditional homeless system.”

Though Meredith acknowledged that youth homelessness will likely never be eradicated, Lighthouse Youth and Family Services is determined to ensure that the resources available are accessible to every young adult in need of them.

UCCOM AMA believes wholeheartedly in the mission of LYS, and chose LYS to be the beneficiary of its fall Casual Clinical Skills fundraiser, an event that allows medical students to wear casual dress rather than business professional attire for their mandatory clinical skills course. At the end of their visit to the Sheakley Center, members of the UCCOM AMA Executive Board presented Meredith with a $300 check from the fundraiser which will help LYS continue to reform and enhance the homeless youth system in Cincinnati.

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