homeless youth walking

“In talking with HYA clients, we learned that HYA staff successfully work with them to secure housing, to enter drug treatment, and to find employment as the clients request it and are ready for that assistance. They encourage youth to create a resume to keep on file at HYA. However, clients emphasized the importance of connecting with the staff and feeling supported by them above all other tangible services provided. One client was actively working to become certified through another youth-focused agency to become an official intern at HYA. Another client considered herself an informal volunteer. All clients described different ways that HYA staff had supported them through difficult times and as a consequence they were able to make healthier life choices. The client mentioned above is now in drug rehabilitation for the first time in his life. The young woman we talked to discussed her reliance on one staff member in particular who has served as a mentor and a close ally in her efforts to make healthy decisions.”

San Francisco Department of Public Health HIV Prevention Section

HYA’s service philosophy is predicated on self-determination and self-discovery: offering youth the foundation and the tools to shape their own journeys and cultivate the autonomy to independently make healthy choices. We refer to youth as “participants,” not “clients,” and we solicit and implement their ideas about discussion topics for health groups, trainings, and activities; and empower them to take the knowledge and resources they’ve gained out into their community to share with their peers.

New participants who engage in our services often display low self-esteem and an extreme sense of disenfranchisement. This is arguably due to larger societal issues of poverty, neglect, and abuse; but also can also be attributed to a feeling of invisibility caused by their lack of access to culturally appropriate services and their disconnection from any kind of support system. Due to these experiences, these youth are often extremely distrustful of authority and organizations, and much of the work that HYA strives to do involves building healthy relationships with youth that combat this crippling sense of alienation. Creating healthy relationships and getting youth temporarily off the street creates the foundation for life changing steps, when HYA participants are ready to make them. HYA’s emphasis on instilling respect on both the individual and community levels inspires participants to take better care of themselves and each other, immediately and in the long term.

Our participants have direct input on the structure and direction of HYA:

  • They volunteer: They help facilitate workshops, volunteer at needle exchange, participate in community clean-ups, help clean up and maintain the space.
  • They hire: We always have youth present during interviews for all outreach counselors.
  • They work: We hire young people who have similar backgrounds to our participants, some of whom used to engage in our services.