CTI Takes Aim at Reducing Youth Homelessness

November 26, 2018

LOWELL -- A child pulled from their home by the Department of Children and Families years ago has been living in the custody of the state ever since.

With adulthood approaching, it’s time for that youth to become independent and make it on their own.

“So, what’s the plan for them?” said Karen Frederick, CEO of the Lowell-based Community Teamwork Inc. “How scary must that be for an 18-year-old? We want to make sure there’s a plan for every one of those kids.”

It’s a scenario described by Frederick that includes the potential for youth homelessness, which CTI is aiming to eliminate. The details of what led to a youth’s homelessness varies from case to case, but can often be traced to abandonment, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse.

“It’s a problem we think we can fix,” Frederick said. “That’s the motivating factor. As a community, we should be saying we’re going to have a response to youth homelessness.”

CTI has recently made several moves toward the battle against youth homelessness, including the recent hire of Amanda Mallardo. Mallardo was brought in last month to serve as CTI’s director of Homeless Youth Services. She formerly worked with homeless youth at Bridge over Troubled Waters Inc., based in Boston.

“Being here for seven weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several youth, and I think what it comes down to, all the youth that I’ve encountered are so resilient,” Mallardo said. “Hearing the stories and the struggles that they’ve been through and they’ve still persevered has been such a motivating factor. You want to make sure that those stories you’re hearing, you can provide the support to the youth who might be experiencing similar things in the future.”

Mallardo’s hire was one of the several outcomes of a “launch event” CTI held in June, bringing together key stake holders in Greater Lowell to talk about youth homelessness. The Youth Homelessness Summit, attended by roughly 110 people, delved into topics including the extent of youth homelessness in the community, how youth and young adults experience homelessness and how the community responds. During the summit, it was revealed that the city of Lowell served 155 youth dealing with homelessness in 2018. It’s a number that’s often in flux, but a number that can be overcome, Frederick said.

The summit led to the development of four committees to work toward identifying connections and “resource mapping” for the community, according to Karl Howell, division director of Housing and Homeless Services.

Committees include one to focus on local and national data, another on community engagement, and another on prevention and intervention. The fourth committee includes a Youth Action Board.

“We’re providing a platform for youth in the area to be a part of the solutions and the strategies, and resource development for the city and the surrounding area,” Howell said.

According to Frederick, CTI is also working with state and local agencies, along with area schools, including UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College -- places where young people can be found who are dealing with homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. According to data released during June’s summit, 48 UMass Lowell students self-reported experiencing homelessness. At Middlesex Community College, that number was 64.

“We understand it is a growing problem and we want to be able to prevent kids from ending up on the street,” Frederick said.

Mallardo recently shared a list of programming CTI hopes to provide to at-risk youth -- described as those ages 16 to 24 struggling with housing, education and occupational goals.

Programs include outreach services, which involves connecting youth with community centers, schools, local businesses or law enforcement; assessment services -- an extension of outreach services -- aimed at providing a connection to clinical and substance use supports, community opportunities and basic survival needs; and transitional housing programming that will offer short-term housing for qualifying youth, and provide education about budgeting, obtaining employment and housing, and basic life skills.

“We are extremely optimistic that with raised awareness and catered services -- existing and future programming -- we will have a better handle on these youth who are experiencing homelessness and be able to intervene earlier and more efficiently,” Mallardo said.

For more information about CTI, visit their website at commteam.org .

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis

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