Houseless youth rebuilding lives through NAYA and pilot program

Houseless youth rebuilding lives through NAYA and pilot program

Houselessness is a critical issue in Portland, with Native Americans disproportionately represented in Multnomah County. NAYA’s Youth Housing Services (YHS) works to change that for the nearly 93 youth, ages 16-24, served by the program through offering housing and other basic human needs like food, hygiene products, childcare, and connection to culture.  

YHS is part of a greater vision for the Native community to create paths for self-determination. According to NAYA Youth Housing Manager, Jordan Palmer, Coquille, “Experiencing homelessness can mean a variety of things. This includes couch surfing, temporary living situations with family members, and not having a designated bedroom.” 

With a community-driven approach, YHS provides trauma-informed care and addresses the unique circumstances that lead to homelessness within the Native American community. Utilizing the Relational Worldview Model, YHS works to meet clients where they are, to develop goals based on what the young person wants for themselves.  

“The holistic Indigenous model for wellness is at the forefront of our work. We identify four goals based on mind, body, spirit and social context. We develop our plan based on this assessment and find that this has a long-term lasting impact. A common goal can be learning to cook more, or basic skills needed to thrive,” said Palmer. 

While NAYA’s YHS provides a continuum of life-saving resources and wraparound services, it’s through an innovative, state-wide pilot program that we are seeing real potential to move the needle on youth homelessness. NAYA is the first Portland organization to participate in the Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) Plus program, which distributes $1,000 each month to homeless youth for two years, with no stipulations about how that money is spent. Direct cash transfers for youth have roots in universal basic income, an anti-poverty intervention that provides regular cash payments with no restrictions to communities.  

The state partnered with the nationwide homeless youth nonprofit Point Source Youth to bring direct cash transfers to Oregon. Most government funding allocated to ending youth homelessness has tight rules about spending. That’s not so with direct cash transfers. 

Three Oregon organizations serving homeless youth are facilitating the pilot, which has more than 100 participants overall.  With 74 youth, NAYA is facilitating the largest cohort, with nearly all of the youth identifying as people of color and more than a third identifying as Indigenous. Participants began receiving payments in March 2023. 

DCT is already impacting lives as state data shows nearly two-thirds of youth participants in the program have been housed since the pilot began. In a recent interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Melissa Juans-Munoz, one of the youth working with NAYA’s YHS, shared that their funding has gone towards basic needs such as groceries, items to furnish their new apartment, and a cell phone for their younger sister.  

“It does make a world of difference,” said Juans-Munoz of the additional money. “And it makes me feel better when I can help my family too.” Read more about Melissa’s journey here. 

Each DCT participant receives $1,000 a month for two years and has access to a one-time $3,000 enrichment fund.  

According to Palmer the results are lifechanging. “We’ve seen folks buy a car, pay off debt collections, and take care of things that may cause challenges for them. Just having a little extra money can make such a huge difference. One of the nice things about DCT is that there is no required case management component. While we have staff and services always available, participants’ funding isn’t contingent upon attending classes. All they must do is let a DCT staff know once a month that they received their payment.”  

“A youth I was working with recently got into college and I referred them to Northwest Housing which provided rental support. The DCT provided funding to pay off academic holds and he just finished his first semester with a 3.4 GPA” said Erik Ramone, Navajo/Aaniiih (Grosventre), Youth Housing Advocate. 

“I feel like a lot of people who come from reservations just want an opportunity to do things but that can be hard in an urban setting. So, being able to share my lived experience and bring them into NAYA for programming is rewarding. Providing a safe space for our youth on their pathway to adulthood is everything,” said Ramone. 

Community-based investments 

Since the inception of DCT, YHS has continued to make community-based investments through intentional programming and support services like financial literacy and housing navigation.  

“We’ve responded to the needs and wants of our young people by hosting financial wellness events at community gatherings. There is a lot of stigma around homelessness, so we provide opportunities for youth to feel accepted. So many of our participants who didn’t know each other are now meeting outside of NAYA and making those connections. We can only do so much as case workers and sources of support. It has a profound and lasting impact with peer-to-peer support,” said Palmer. 

Youth also wanted more support in strengthening their cultural identity and mental health, so NAYA is offering them cultural arts classes like beading and mental health supports like harm reduction services. Culture is healing!  

For more information on NAYA’s Youth Housing Services visit our website.