The third annual Southern Nevada Youth Homelessness Summit, presented by Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) and Sands Cares, takes place Thursday, November 7 at The Venetian Resort. Ahead of Summit 19, NPHY Executive Director Arash Ghafoori spoke to us about the issue of youth homelessness, how the Summit addresses the issue and about the importance of NPHY’s partnership with Sands and others.
First and foremost: Why is the Youth Homelessness Summit critical for Southern Nevada?
Two years ago, the Youth Homelessness Summit was the means to get all of the stakeholders together and put renewed focus on addressing youth homelessness. Right after the Summit, we started meeting with community stakeholders on a weekly basis and putting together this plan. We knew we needed to really speak to the community about this issue. Youth homelessness is unique, so we knew the solution needed to be unique, too. Then, at the second Summit, we knew we needed a North Star for people to really follow, and that was the Southern Nevada Plan to End Youth Homelessness. It was the rally for our community to pursue the goal of ending youth homelessness, as well as lent the strategies, directions and the roadmap to get there. Now we’re going into the third Summit. This year, we’re digging into the Movement at work. We’re updating on all of the work we’ve accomplished in the past year, and we’re also building traction on the Plan going forward by identifying and exploring community needs so that we keep making progress.
How has the Summit helped the efforts of addressing youth homelessness?
Youth homelessness is one of the direst issues we face in our community. There’s a real sense of urgency in finding solutions. Prior to the Summit, it was sometimes difficult to make the spotlight on the issue any brighter. But, due to our partnership with Sands, we’ve been able to create a bigger spotlight and do more to address the issue of youth homelessness. We’re able to pursue bigger ideas and wider partnerships, which allows us to bring in even more resources to tackle the problem.
Tell us a little more about the focus of this year’s Summit.
This year, we’ve picked four specific tracks to focus on and help us address the issue from multiple angles. There’s the host homes track, the youth track, the data track and the higher education track. These tracks will be filled with insights from leading experts in the morning, then the afternoon track sessions will focus on real work and solutions.
Can you dive a little deeper into each of the four tracks?
We have the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless youth living on the streets in the country, and our community only has the infrastructure to house 25 percent of those in need. The host homes track will speak to that need, not only for long-term solutions, but short-term ones, as well. Youth with lived experience themselves are at the forefront leading the content for the youth track, and will give participants valuable insights by telling their stories through skits, poetry and monologues ... It’s going to be really incredible. They want to show the community how diverse and different their experiences are and foster an understanding of how their situations happened. Then there’s the data track, where we’ll talk about not only making sure providers have access to the same data, but also address the biggest issue with data – making sure we get accurate counts of homeless youth, so we can provide the resources needed. Finally, there’s the higher education track. Through our advocacy, the Nevada State Legislature introduced efforts to create a homeless youth liaison for higher education, and now the Movement can help take the conversation forward. With Sands’ help, we’ve been able to involve UNLV, so we’re all going down this road of addressing higher education needs of the youth together.
Developing strong community partnerships seems like an important aspect of addressing youth homelessness – What strategies do you have in place?
Absolutely. They help create the bridge to encourage not only local philanthropists and groups to provide their resources, but also recruit national groups to invest in community solutions. Government entities like the Department of Health and Human Services, charitable groups like the John Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and others all come together to tackle the problem. None of this would have been possible if Sands hadn’t noticed the severity of the youth homelessness issue, and made an investment in founding the Southern Nevada Youth Homelessness Summit with us – not just through underwriting the event, but in playing a true leadership role and making a true investment in the cause. These key community and national partnerships drive the Movement and Summit 19 is the place where it all comes together.