Homeless Youth Spearhead Prevention Forum

August 31st, 2017 - 2:06pm

College of Marin Contact:
Nicole Cruz
(415) 485-9508
Office of the Superintendent/President  

AHO Contact:
Zara Babitzke
(415) 381-7173


Homeless Youth Spearhead Prevention Forum

College of Marin Collaborates with AHO on Town Hall Hosted by Senator Mike McGuire
Photo of COM students with Senator McGuire and Zara Babitzke 
COM Students Tony, Christina, and Juliana with Senator McGuire and AHO Founder
(From L to R: Tony Wisner, Christina Herrera, Senator McGuire, Juliana Steccone, and Zara Babitzke)
Photo courtesy of Zara Babitzke, AHO Founder

KENTFIELD/NOVATO, CA—August 31, 2017—Inspired by the words of Albert Einstein, “You cannot solve a problem by the same thinking that created it,” the Youth Team from Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) are changing the narrative around homelessness to prevention with a Town Hall Forum “THINK DIFFERENT: A Preventative Approach for Homeless Youth” hosted by Senator Mike McGuire on Monday, September 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Guzman Hall, Dominican University of California. 

The AHO Youth Team is made up of previously homeless youth, and three members—Juliana, Christina, and Tony—have been working hard to deepen the community’s understanding of homeless youth. They are asking that the community think differently about approaches to youth homelessness in Marin County. To accomplish this, they are collaborating with Senator Mike McGuire, Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, Tamalpais Union High School District Wellness Director Jessica Colvin, College of Marin (COM), and Dominican University to present the town hall forum. Anna Pletcher, JD, former chair of the Marin Women’s Commission, will moderate the event. 

Featuring the voices of youth who have experienced the struggle, the forum will focus on the growing trend of youth homelessness and provide a preventative model that is youth-friendly, cost-effective, and inspires the community to get involved in the solution. Senator McGuire, Jessica Colvin, and other community leaders will participate in a panel discussion.

Homeless youth in Marin is a growing trend. According to Marin County Office of Education 2015-16 Cal PADS data, 983 students were documented as homeless in Marin County schools compared to 152 students documented ten years ago. That figure represents an 85 percent increase. 

Reports from COM included 29 students who self-identified as homeless for the 2016-17 academic year. Director of Student Activities and Advocacy Sadika Sulaiman Hara commented that this number is typically underreported.
“While there is an assumption that college students in this county are not homeless, we are seeing students at College of Marin every semester who are telling us otherwise,” says Sulaiman-Hara. “This includes students who are living in their cars, living in shelters, living on the street, and/or moving from couch to couch for a place to sleep. We know this is a real issue.”

Recognizing that there has been an increase in homeless students on college campuses across the nation, COM has been collaborating with community organizations to develop partnerships that address this and related issues, such as food insecurity.

According to the 2017 Wisconsin Hope Lab report, “Hungry and Homeless in College,” about one-third of students in California community colleges are housing insecure or homeless. The concerns are further exacerbated when many from this group are also hungry.

Recognizing the effects these issues have on students’ academic performance, the College started the COM Cupboard initiative in December 2017 to combat food insecurity and looks to Marin County partners, like AHO, when it comes to housing insecurity and homelessness.

Availability of comprehensive support resources for homeless youth on campus is critical. Absorbing class material and focusing on assignments is far more difficult for students when they are preoccupied with worrying about where they will sleep and when they will eat their next meal.

“This is where the partnership with AHO has been significant,” said Sulaiman Hara. “The Youth Team and Zara Babitzke, AHO’s executive director, have been instrumental in responding when a student is need of support that is immediate, comprehensive, and age-appropriate.” 

In April 2017, AHO brought their annual Youth Connect event to COM so that students and other youth in need could access services, such as dental and health care, which would otherwise be another expense to cover while trying to pay for college.

AHO believes that when addressing homelessness at its core, the cost of intervention is minimal and exorbitant costs of addressing chronic, long-term adult homelessness can be avoided. For example, one year in the Marin County Jail costs $78,000, according to Captain Navarro of the Marin County Jail, while intervention through AHO costs approximately $1,000. 

As Marin County’s only nonprofit serving homeless youth, AHO provides young people ages 18 to 25 everything a parent might help with through their critical transition to adulthood. A Stanford University study, Connected by 25, reports that if youth do not receive the support they need during this critical stage they will be 50 percent more likely to become part of the adult homeless population.

The comprehensive, youth-friendly, preventative services and resources provided by AHO are both a safety net and a hand-up for these young people so they don’t end up becoming homeless adults. In 13 years, over 1,759 youth are now in stable housing, working several jobs, completing their education, and giving back to the organization through the AHO Youth Team projects. 

AHO’s 99-member Alliance for Youth partners include businesses, individuals, and faith communities involved in the solution to ending youth homelessness. They provide pro-bono support of free major and minor dental work, professional counseling, employers that fast-track AHO youth into jobs, cell phones, eyeglasses, DMV identity cards, leadership opportunities, and more. COM is proud to support AHO in changing lives and building youth leaders by engaging homeless youth, their peers, and the community in the solution by thinking different. 

About College of Marin
Established in 1926, College of Marin remains committed to educational excellence, providing equitable opportunities, and fostering success in all members of its diverse community. With campuses in Kentfield and Novato, students of all ages have affordable access to an exciting variety of credit and noncredit courses as well as community education classes for lifelong learning. College of Marin is one of 114 public community colleges in California and approximately 13,000 credit, noncredit, and community education students enroll annually. 

College of Marin is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, 10 Commercial Boulevard, Suite 204, Novato, CA 94949, (415) 506-0234, an institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

About Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity
The mission of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity is to provide a “safety net” of stable housing, guidance and community connections for previously abused, abandoned and/or neglected Marin County young adults, ages 18 to 25, who are not supported through the funding streams for foster youth, juvenile services or mentally ill youth.

Additional forum sponsors include Starbucks, Rocco Pizza, Sweet Things Bakery, Community Media Center of Marin (CMCM), and West Brooklyn Pizza. AHO Youth Team’s “Youth Homelessness to Hope” murals will be exhibited.