Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Life Stage? We Already Know...

The New York Times Sunday magazine had a very long article about 20-somethings and the new "life stage" proposed by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett. He is calling it "emerging adulthood". Guess what ages this new stage encompasses? Yep, 18 - 24....the age group I have been preaching about for the last several years. Why have I been preaching about them? Because if we don't help these young adults who are aging out of the foster care system and/or the juvenile justice system, up to 45% of whom will be homeless within 2 years of their emancipation--not to mention the thousands of other homeless young adults who are not connected to any system--we will NEVER end homelessness. They ARE the future generations of chronically homeless adults.

Dr. Arnett posits several causes for this new life stage: the need for more education to survive in the information-based economy, fewer entry-level jobs after all that education, young people marrying later, young women waiting to have children, to name a few. The characteristics of this stage include: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and "a sense of possibility".

The characteristic we see most in the young people with which we work, of course, is instability. They lack the luxury of focusing on education, or self exploration, or possibility, as they spend all of their energy simply surviving. Like Maslow's Heirarchy of needs, until they have their basic needs met, nothing else happens.

Although Arnett's theory in one way seems to be based upon privilege (only those with sturdy support systems have the luxury of "delaying adulthood"), what I really like about it is his insistence that these young adults have very different needs than either adolescents or adults. Although they look grown, the great majority of them are not, which is now being borne out in neurological study of the brain. We now know that the brain does not fully mature until at least age 25, and many times until age 30. Consequently, although these young people are more mature than adolescents, they are NOT adults, as defined by our society.

This research gives validity to my argument that adult homeless shelters are in no way appropriate for homeless young adults ages 18 - 24. However, neither are teen shelters, which operate on rigid schedules with tight supervision and strict curfews. What is needed is a two-pronged approach: a less rigid emergency center AND longer-term transitional housing WITH critically needed support services tailored to this age group i.e., educational support, life skills, parenting skills, credit establishment, family reunification, etc.

As with most other societal ills, we are currently treating the tail and not the dog. If we intervened appropriately in the lives of homeless young adults at this critical stage of between 18 and 24 years of age, we wouldn't see them at age 40 or 45, chronically homeless, addicted, and/or mentally ill (by the way, up to 40% of chronically homeless adults were in the foster care or juvenile justice systems as teens).

And, by the way, it's MUCH cheaper to treat them at 18 than it is at 45.

Why can't we get this???

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cliff Manor, Continued

In case you haven’t seen the Dallas paper this morning, there is an Editorial about Cliff Manor and the way DHA has handled the project. It remains curious to me how it is that DHA is taking ALL of the heat on this and Councilman Neumann is taking NONE. It was he who let the town hall meeting disintegrate into the Jerry Springer show, and it was he who chose to wait til 10:00 at the neighborhood taskforce meeting (after we had been there since 6:00) to announce that 13 individuals were being moved into Cliff Manor this week.

There have been recent DHA and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance cooperative permanent supportive housing projects “installed” in other councilpersons’ districts that have occurred smoothly, with good neighborhood input, and with general support (after much education). The difference is this: the other council members showed leadership and were honest and upfront with their constituents about what and what not they had input. Neumann has continuously tried to play both sides and has caused chaos to reign.

The Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance are going to house the homeless. Mayor Leppert has said he is in support of this. As a neighbor of Cliff Manor and an Oak Cliff resident for many years, I totally understand the neighborhood rebelling against anything that would impede our many years of hard work to improve Oak Cliff’s image and economic standing in Dallas. As a representative of MDHA, I know the ins and outs of permanent supportive housing and the research that lends credibility to the model. It works. It does not devalue neighborhoods. In fact, it adds value many times.

The knee-jerk reaction of "not in my back yard" is based upon the premise that permanent supportive housing is intrinsically bad, that it causes problems for neighborhoods, that it has a negative impact on home values, and that the people who live in these projects are bad people. Although the research in no way bears this out, the lay person DOES NOT KNOW THIS. It is our job as professionals who KNOW the jargon, who BELIEVE in the model, and who SUPPORT the individuals moving in to do a much better job of educating our neighbors on the benefits of permanent supportive housing, of the controls in place for the protection of the neighborhood, and of the intrinsic value of the individuals moving into their neighborhood.

Otherwise, the Cliff Manor uproar is only the beginning.