Oakland City Council, Youth Commission Highlight Unhoused Youth Voices and Issues

On Monday, April 25, Oakland City Council held a special meeting with the Youth Advisory Commission to give an informational report on youth homelessness in Oakland. Nationally each year, close to 4.2 million youth and young adults, ages 13-25, experience some form of being unhoused. Close to 700,000 of that population are unaccompanied minors. Statewide, 3.8% of California’s students have experienced some form of homelessness, but advocates believe those numbers are misrepresented as many youths may be unaccounted for. 

This meeting brought Oakland leadership and the broader community together to create a space of shared learning that included testimonies and recommendations on how to combat youth homelessness in the city.  

This special meeting was attended by 12 youth commissioners, four youth action board members, and four youth leaders from CTE Hub. Overall, the event had about 95 attendees. The CTE Hub is a youth-led movement to develop a full service Career Technical Education Hub at 1025 2nd Avenue in Oakland for transitional aged youth, including housing and wrap-around services.

The goal of OYAC is to provide youth with a pathway into the public arena and have a voice on youth-related issues such as public safety, health, housing, and more. In partnership with Youth Action Board and CTE Hub, attendees got the opportunity to hear the lived experiences of youth advocates who have been previously unhoused. 

Sahra Nawabi, a young adult who shared her experience, helped attendees understand what homelessness and adultism look like for a youth navigating the system. She defined adultism as “the sense of privilege and hierarchical attitude adults tend to have towards teens and youth.” This is to be understood in the context of youth feeling silenced and misrepresented when seeking housing and other forms of support.

screenshot of zoom screen with "what is adultism" and image of young woman on side and "your voice matters"
Sahra Nawabi at a City Council and OYAC meeting on April 25, 2022.

Estefany Velasquez, a youth commissioner co-chair, explained data on the lack of investment in youth. A 2020 housing inventory counted the total number of beds reserved for youth in all housing facilities at 5.4%. However, the total percentage of unhoused youth in Oakland was 13%. This shows a stark disparity. 

The meeting then moved into the youth testimonies. Nawabi spoke about her experience of being unhoused starting at the age of 10. She was denied supportive housing because she did not fit the narrow category that was needed to qualify. “I was allowed to transform my trauma to help youth homelessness,” Nawabi said when she became involved with the Alameda County Youth Advisory Board. She came across a flyer from OYAC and “knew it was time to expand my networks.” 

Several other young adults shared their long journeys facing homelessness and other issues.

Antonio “Tony” Pizano, now age 25, recounts his experience living in various cities across the Bay Area during his time in the foster system after both of his parents passed away. This also impacted his education trajectory as he was forced to attend several schools during his teenage years. During his senior year of high school, he dropped out, as it was a choice between school and bills. 

Pizano got the opportunity to be a part of the West Coast Advocacy Center where he trained therapists and social workers on trauma-informed work. The center carved out 10 hours a week for him to focus on his education and he was eventually able to obtain his GED. He is now at Merritt College and will graduate next semester. “Only 3-5% of foster youth graduate college, and I’m the first in my family to do so,” Hazano said. 

Another youth, Aniya (who prefers to use only her first name), now works at the Young Women’s Freedom Center. She shared her journey of house-hopping after her home burned down. As a young teen mom, she tells attendees of her difficulties in trying to find housing. “You get the resources but there is no way to sustain them,” she said. 

For Evelyn (who prefers to use only her first name), “I was experiencing homelessness at a young age but did not know I was.” Growing up, her family ate at soup kitchens and slept in shelters under the assumption that everyone did that. Her mother finally got Section 8 after years of trying but after getting housing for herself and her children, still dealt with substance abuse and mental health issues. “As the oldest daughter, I then had a lot of responsibilities,” Evelyn said. After being kicked out of her home, she was eventually incarcerated which impacted her ability to get employment and access certain opportunities. Evelyn echoed Aniya’s point about not being able to maintain the needed services and resources. 

The meeting moved into recommendations as a call to action. The OYAC called to establish a task force to would pull from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, County Office of education, Peralta Community College District, Oakland City Council, Mayor’s office, and OUSD to focus on four key areas—structural, systems, early intervention for high-risk youth, and housing stabilization. This task force would help to remove access to barriers and help design crisis intervention resources. Housing stabilization would help youth maintain these resources such as financial assistance to prevent eviction. Other recommendations included asking for human resources support that looks like hiring stipended volunteers to assist OUSD staff in schools and with service providers. Lastly, a family engagement recommendation was proposed that would nurture client-led coaching and solutions as a holistic approach to help mitigate the youth housing crisis. OYAC also shared a proposed timeline on when these recommendations could be implemented.

The meeting wrapped up with reflections and public comments. Comments were largely in support of the youth commission’s recommendations. Some speakers pushed for more funding for technical educational career programs, while others made clear that the cost of living in the area makes it difficult for youth people to get a fair start and that teachers deserve to be paid more. People with lived experiences need to be centered was the echoing sentiment in comments. 

“Our responsibility as city council members is to listen to the youth in our community, to learn from their direct experiences, and to take action,” Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said at the meeting. 

This space allowed Oakland to learn ways in which unhoused youth can be given the resources they need to fully stand in their power and strengthen resilience.   

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For more information or to follow along with the youth organizations, you can follow the CTE hub via Instagram at @ctehub_1025 or read their one-pager.  On May 15th, the Youth Action Board report is set to be completed and you can also follow this work @alamedacountyyouthaction via Instagram. The Oakland Youth Advisory Commission is accepting applications for the 22-23 cycle year. Follow the work of the Oakland Youth Commission via Instagram at @oakyac

Note: current Oakland Voices class member Carina V. Lieu is the manager of OYAC board.

Correction: The original version of the article linked to OUSD’s Career & Technical Education page and described CTE Hub as OUSD’s career pathway program. CTE Hub was created independently of OUSD. Learn more about CTE Hub and their vision for a center for transitional aged youth.

About Iris Crawford

Iris M. Crawford, is a poet and social justice advocate. Hailing from New York City, she is a first-generation Guyanese- American. Her journey has allowed her to empower communities through health care advocacy, education and environmental justice. In 2018, Iris was selected as a semi-finalist Fulbright Scholar for an English Teaching Assistantship in South Africa. She also just became a resident of the 2020 Shuffle Collective Literary Arts Residency where she will be working to strengthen her creative work, gain skills to continue growing professionally and build community. She earned her BA in Political Philosophy and African American Studies from Syracuse University. View all posts by Iris Crawford →

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