Activating Uptake

person standing by wall

What is Activating Uptake?

What would it take to double or triple the number of communities on a faster, smarter trajectory towards preventing and ending youth homelessness? 

Activating Uptake is a national initiative that helped us answer that question, and equips and mobilizes a critical mass of communities with a new framework to work on a faster, smarter trajectory toward preventing and ending youth homelessness.  

Read The Report

Why is Activating Uptake needed?

The number of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness each year in this nation far exceeds existing resources. Currently, only 35% of youth and young adults seeking housing are being served, leaving 65% experiencing homelessness and housing instability*. The small percentage who are served wait, on average, five months before receiving housing support. Furthermore, recent research* has revealed how these inadequate response systems are not only perpetuating homelessness but are also contributing to national increases in the number of youth who experience homelessness each year. 

Over the last three years, Youth Collaboratory has worked with local community providers, advocates, researchers, government agencies, philanthropists, and youth and young adults to design coordinated system and community level responses that prevent and end youth homelessness. Our work has focused on capturing key learnings iteratively, building evidence and creating practical tools to impact communities.

There is a growing divide between the few communities equipped to iterate towards this goal and the vast majority of communities. While initiatives focused on preventing and ending youth homelessness (known as catalytic projects) have rapidly moved the needle in what we know works and doesn’t work, the number of communities utilizing this information remains low. The 75 communities involved in catalytic projects represent roughly 19% of the 402 Continuums of Care** nationally. In fact, a majority of communities have yet to pivot to a coordinated and systemic response to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness. Most community approaches lack essential elements such as centering the wisdom of youth and young adults with lived experience, utilizing data to drive change, and designated leadership. This leaves a wide gap between the 75 communities and the rest of the field (86% of Continuums of Care). To shift the larger field, we need to reach a critical mass of communities. The Activating Uptake initiative is designed to define and address that divide.

What did we accomplish and learn?

First, Youth Collaboratory needed to identify elements and strategies that were working well in communities. These components were attributed to the success communities were seeing in preventing and ending youth homelessness locally. Eight ‘high leverage components’ were identified through a community process. Interviews were conducted with stakeholders involved in catalytic projects, where conversations focused on identification of high leverage components, the priority order of such components, and the role they see catalytic projects playing in efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness. Common themes immediately emerged, and when new or less prevalent topics were mentioned, additional details and community examples were collected. 

Together, the eight high leverage components form the Activating Uptake Framework, a process for organizing efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness. The eight high leverage components include:

  1. Authentic Youth Collaboration
  2. Centering Equity
  3. Prevention Focus
  4. Collective Ownership
  5. Strong Leadership
  6. Cross Systems Collaboration
  7. Having and Using Good Data
  8. Capacity to Drive Change

Click here to view the full description of each high leverage component and indicators. 

After we identified which strategies were working in communities, we then wanted to identify which communities were using them and how. The Activating Uptake Community Survey was designed to capture the rate in which these components are currently in place and where they are not; and to identify the barriers and opportunities for increased adoption of these components. Sixty communities represented by 55 Continuums of Care (CoC) were included in the survey sample. A total of 122 surveys were completed between December 2019 and February 2020. 

Key findings and takeaways include:

  • The most common high leverage components across all communities were Strong Leadership (47%), Having and Using Good Data (44%), and Collective Ownership (35%).
  • The least common high leverage components across all communities were Centering Equity (2%), Cross System Collaboration (7%), and Prevention Focus (16%).
  • Communities that participated in a catalytic project (initiatives focused on preventing and ending youth homelessness) typically had more high leverage components in place.
  • Centering Equity: This high leverage component was the least frequent across all communities, and is central to the process and success of preventing and ending youth homelessness. Additional supports are needed for communities to continue to achieve this high leverage component and meet the needs of youth in their communities.
  • Youth and Young Adult Leadership: Responses from youth and young adults indicate that they are ready for more decision making power and crave the structures and supportive relationships to advance their leadership within communities. Communities need continued support to reduce adultism and strengthen authentic partnerships with young leaders. This desire aligns with the evidence on Positive Youth Development supporting healthy development, and strengthening community systems.
  • An Iterative and Ongoing Process: Activating Uptake is a framework to guide the process and the focus within a community. The measurable indicators reflect progress within each high leverage component. Activating Uptake is an iterative process which is ongoing. Communities and leaders must always strive to advance within each high leverage component. The work is never done until youth and young adult homelessness has ended.

Why is this important?

Using the findings from this Initiative, Youth Collaboratory will develop a national strategy to equip more communities to adopt high leverage components. Furthermore, these findings will  push us and our partners to increase our collective investment in clearly documenting the evidence of what works, and its impact on preventing and ending youth homelessness. 

In the next phase of this Initiative, Youth Collaboratory will develop tools and opportunities for communities to learn more about each high leverage component and strategies for adopting them. We know that by amplifying practices that work, more communities will be on a faster, smarter trajectory towards preventing and ending youth homelessness. Additionally, Youth Collaboratory will develop systems for ongoing coordination with national partners, track community and system improvements, and strengthen structural advocacy to support this work nationally.  

Want to learn more?

Read the Report, Activating Uptake to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness: National Community Survey Findings

Read The Report

View the Activating Uptake Summary

View the Activating Uptake Community Survey 

Activating Uptake High Leverage Components

High Leverage Component Description Indicators

Authentic Youth Collaboration: The community is engaged in an authentic, transparent, and collaborative decision making process where youth and young adults with lived experience are partners in the work and have power to impact change. The community has an active Youth Action Board representing multiple perspectives of youth and young adults with lived experience who are financially compensated for their time, expertise, and contributions.  

  • There is a convening body of youth and young adults for the purpose of designing, monitoring, and evaluating homeless responses and strategies in the community. For example, there is a Youth Advisory Board, Youth Leadership Council, or Youth Action Board.
  • Community level goals towards ending youth and young adult homelessness are determined with participation of youth and young adults with lived experiences of homelessness and/or housing instability. 
  • The CoC board has at least 2 voting seats dedicated to youth and young adults with lived experience of homelessness and/or housing instability.
Centering Equity: The community has an explicit commitment to equity for youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth, beginning in the homeless response system, including agreement that if efforts are not scaled up to end homelessness among youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth, youth homelessness will not end. The community acknowledges inequities and makes a commitment to not perpetuate the issues that exist, through power redistribution and deep understanding of racial equity and LGBTQ+ equity issues across all data points.
  • There are community level outcomes and indicators related to equity in place.
  • The community assessment includes a focus on the following subpopulations of youth and young adults at risk of experiencing homelessness and housing instability: pregnant and parenting youth, minors, LGBTQ+ youth, youth with experience of child welfare, youth with experience of juvenile justice, and victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.
  • A shared power analysis has been conducted to determine who has decision making power and who does not within the coordinating body of stakeholders advancing the goals to prevent and end youth and young adults homelessness.

Prevention Focus: At a community level, there is increased capacity to reduce inflow of young people into homelessness, particularly for young people with experiences that put them at risk of losing housing. Preventing youth homelessness is a high priority, requiring alignment and collaboration between youth and family systems. The community also takes a holistic approach to partnerships that go beyond typical partners (criminal justice, education, and child welfare) and include faith community, social safety nets, government, mental health, and parenting support networks.

  • Available funding has been prioritized for prevention specific interventions. 
  • A set of strategies is in place to identify unaccompanied youth and young adults who are doubled up or couch surfing and are considered to be experiencing homelessness under any federal definition.
  • Public systems - child welfare, juvenile justice and education services - have screening and early identification processes for identifying youth and young adults at-risk for homelessness.
Collective Ownership: The community has and embraces a local or state plan of action for youth homelessness that includes system performance and population outcome indicators. The plan has a concurrent focus on coordinating its response as well as right-sizing the system to invest in an array of program options. 
  • There is a commitment to preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness demonstrated by a Local Action Plan.
  • There is a community level set of indicators that align with the community’s goals to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness.
Strong Leadership: There is a clear leader(s) who is a high level champion, acting with urgency, adapting, making decisions, and is respected in the community. Supporting that leader(s) is a specific body and/or entity includes the Youth Action Board and facilitates coordination between all relevant agencies on issues relating to youth homelessness with influence and authority to advance change. Additionally, leadership is able to mediate disparate stakeholder opinions into a common set of values and goals.
  • There is a specific entity responsible for implementing the community’s action plan.
  • The leading entity has the capacity to make and/or influence decisions that advance an end to youth and young adult homelessness.
  • The leadership team includes individuals with authority to create systems changes to support the implementation of the action plan.
Cross Systems Collaboration: The community fully believes that the homeless system cannot end youth homelessness alone; they actively work to create strong cross system partnerships to meet the end goal. This includes a commitment to end siloing of systems such as child welfare, justice, behavioral health, and schools. Communities have strategies in place that demonstrate mutual interest and strong leadership collaboration between systems to solve one another’s challenges for the youth they have in common, at all levels of the agencies - from leadership to the front lines.
  • Mechanisms are in place to coordinate funding streams to fund services and interventions with juvenile justice, child welfare and education partners. 
  • There are efforts to enhance policy coordination with system partners to advance goals and resources to end youth and young adult homelessness.
  • A high level decision maker within each system is engaged in cross system strategies to advance goals to end youth and young adult homelessness.
Having and Using Good Data: The community has built a culture of continuously collecting, improving, and using data to inform decisions, even when the data is not perfect. There is comfort and confidence in data, largely due to having quality data that is available at program, system, and community levels. The community knows who is experiencing homelessness (quality by-name list) and understands inflow, returns to the homeless system, lengths of time homeless, from where youth are coming, and the community’s inventory of resources.
  • Data is available on the following points to understand the experience of youth and young adults accessing the homeless response system during a specific time period (total number, inflow, outflow, and housing placement).
  • A strategy is in place to identify youth and young adults who may never enter the shelter system, and who experience "hidden" homelessness (doubled up, couch surfing, fleeing from violence, and immigrants).
Capacity to Drive Change: There is widespread belief in the community in the ability to end youth homelessness, and a specific entity and/or individual that facilitates coordination between all relevant agencies on issues relating to youth homelessness. The core leader(s), system partners, and community stakeholders are brought into solving homelessness at the system level. There is strong investment of infrastructure, specifically data systems. There is a concurrent focus on coordinated response as well as right-sizing the system.
  • There is a widespread belief in the ability to end youth and young adult homelessness.
  • The community acts with urgency to swiftly assist youth and young adults to move into permanent or non-time limited housing options with appropriate services and support.

*Toward a System Response to Ending Youth Homelessness, created by Youth Collaboratory in partnership with Chapin Hall and University of Southern California.

** A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.