live / 2014

Invisible to Invincible

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Jovenes, Inc.

The #Invisible2Invincible Campaign raises awareness for challenges faced by homeless youth, systemic change, and develops youth leadership.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Jovenes is a place of personal transformation for homeless youth ages 18-25. We provide stable housing options and supportive services.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The youth we serve commonly share their feelings of invisibility, isolation, and insignificance and generally don’t have a positive vision for themselves or their future. In spite of this, they express a desire to use their experiences to create social change and improve their communities. The Invisible to Invincible campaign utilizes positive youth development, leadership activities, and internships to create change. By providing an opportunity for youth to engage in, and lead, this campaign, Jovenes is creating an innovative and effective model for engagement with homeless youth that taps into their resiliency and capacity for personal growth, permanent change, and invincibility.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

There are three main objectives for the Invisible to Invincible Campaign: 1) Political/Community change regarding the four challenges identified in our research & policy report, 2) increasing awareness & support for homeless youth within our community and neighbors, and 3) personal transformation for program participants. As Jovenes continues to expand our housing capacity, we also seek to identify and address policies and systems that push youth into homelessness or which contribute to the challenges they face as they seek to move their lives forward.

Our youth recently made a documentary entitled “From Invisible to Invincible” which tells powerful stories of how they became homeless and highlights their resilience. The Invisible to Invincible Campaign will utilize this film, along with our research and policy report, to educate our community and empower our youth to create change. Currently, Jovenes is offering three types of internships within this campaign:

  1. Invisible to Invincible Interns: raise awareness of youth homelessness in our Los Angeles, and advocate for potential solutions. In addition, interns will work with Jovenes staff to develop and coordinate new tools and activities to assist our clients and youth in our community overcome their personal cycles of homelessness and access the necessary resources for a better future. These interns also lead presentations and screenings of the Jovenes documentary.
  2. Peer Healthcare Ambassadors: Obtaining health coverage is a priority for homeless youth, but navigating the healthcare system presents a constant challenge. Through partnerships with agencies that specialize in healthcare enrollment, Jovenes is able to create internship opportunities where our youth become trained in healthcare promotion and conduct youth focused outreach and education activities to help other youth receive the care they need.
  3. Social Media Ambassadors: Create content through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to create awareness for the Invisible to Invincible Campaign and the challenges faced by homeless youth.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

This project has a chance to change the way LA sees and understands youth homelessness, and the ways homeless youth view themselves. By creating powerful content utilizing research, program-based data, and storytelling and utilizing the reach of social media, creative presentations, and strong partnerships, the #Invisible2Invincible campaign has the potential to help prioritize homeless youth as a population which needs every opportunity to succeed.
The young men housed at Jovenes come from a very diverse set of backgrounds and have many reasons why they are experiencing homelessness. We see youth who have recently immigrated to the US, youth recently released from jail, youth who have been institutionalized through the foster care system, LGBTQ youth who have been pushed out of their homes, youth with mental disabilities, youth leaving gangs, and a variety of ethnicities Despite their differences, the youth (especially those who choose to participate in the #Invisible2Invincible Campaign) learn to see through what typically sets them apart and understand how to come together. Through Jovenes, youth learn that homelessness is just an experience that they are going through- it doesn’t define them or limit their dreams. This lesson exemplified in how youth begin to support one another, provide encouragement, and celebrate each other’s successes. Each of the youth has experienced times when they have been put down or made to feel invisible. By working together to tap into their inherent resiliency and strengths, they begin to feel Invincible and learn how to overcome their challenges in a positive and productive way. In addition to changing the narrative and raising awareness for homeless youth, this campaign can also make LA a healthier place to live today and in 2050 by advocating for increased permanent housing and ensuring at-risk and homeless youth have access to healthcare. Through Jovenes’ growing Continuum of Care, which is expanding to over 70 units of housing (including short-term shelter, permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and subsidized rental units), we will be able to showcase the various ways our city can end youth homelessness through public/private partnerships. By creating youth-friendly healthcare outreach materials & presentations, this campaign can make the process for youth to enroll in healthcare a less daunting and more accessible opportunity.

Whom will your project benefit?

On any given night, there are over 5,000 youth experiencing homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles. In the public schools surrounding Jovenes, we have learned that there are over 1,000 students who face housing instability. Although the youth we serve come from diverse backgrounds, common barriers to a stable future are found throughout our target population. The findings in our Research and Policy Report, titled From the Fringes - Understanding Homelessness Transition Age Youth in Inner City Los Angeles. This report identified four main challenges faced by homeless youth, which we are addressing through the campaign:

  1. Barriers to safe, supportive, and affordable housing
  2. Challenges accessing basic benefits and health services
  3. Barriers to educational, professional, and economic development
  4. Overcoming trauma and emotional illiteracy.

The membership base for the campaign primarily comes from the young men Jovenes serves in our shelter programs and youth who have exited homelessness and moved into permanent housing. When working with homeless youth, we see that providing small stipends recognizes the immediate needs of our youth and values the commitment they make to this project. In addition, Jovenes will continue to work with partners and volunteers to create storytelling projects featuring the youth we serve in order to highlight their stories, raise awareness, and improve our youth’s sense and vision of themselves through art.

Through this campaign, Jovenes seeks to provide internships and leadership development activities to approximately 20 youth each year. All youth are between the ages of 18-25, are currently or have recently experienced homelessness, and are predominantly Latino and African-American. We seek to have a broad impact through this campaign that could potentially benefit the thousands of youth who experience homelessness in Los Angeles each year.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

In March 2014, the Invisible to Invincible Campaign began operating out of the brand new Wellness Center at the LAC+USC General Hospital, where we are able to engage in close partnership and youth development practices with the fifteen other organizations that are co-located at this facility. Basing these internships and activities out of the Wellness Center provides youth with valuable work experience in a professional setting. Engaging with partners will be key to the success of the Invisible to Invincible Campaign. Partnerships are critical to advance our policy/systems change agenda, create additional opportunities for youth, and create storytelling projects. The following are key confirmed organizations and partners whom Jovenes is collaborating with to move this project forward:

  1. Wellness Center organizations
  2. Building Healthy Communities- Boyle Heights (includes over 40 Boyle Heights based non-profits)
  3. Corporation for Supportive Housing
  4. Department of Mental Health/Housing Institute
  5. The Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness
  6. Boyle Heights Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community
  7. Art Center College of Design
  8. Advancing Justice LA
  9. Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center/Youth Opportunity Movement
  10. Brothers, Sons, Selves Collaborative for Boys & Young Men of Color

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Healthcare access
  • Rates of homelessness
  • Rates of mental illnesses
  • Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of residents receiving coordinated healthcare services (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

This campaign will impact various “LIVE” metrics, especially rates of homelessness. By continuing to create permanent housing opportunities for youth, Jovenes will play our part in our city’s ongoing efforts to end homelessness. By demonstrating how our organization is successfully implementing private and public partnerships, we can show how other communities and organizations can follow our model. Jovenes is seeking to do the majority of our work in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles- two communities that are especially resilient by face long-standing economic and social justice challenges. The #Invisible2Invincible campaign also emphasizes and budgets for evaluation, so we can keep track and share our progress towards impacting the 2050 metrics.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

This program will be evaluated by the number of internship opportunities Jovenes is able to create, the number of youth Jovenes is able to connect to leadership and storytelling activities, and our ability to affect policy and systems change. A major challenge is operating this campaign is its uniqueness; it is very rare for homeless youth to be engaged in this manner. As youth are participating in these internships, they are still working on a personal level to overcome the challenges associated with homelessness.

In addition, Jovenes will utilize the data we collect through our housing programs to contribute to the conversations and knowledge about best practices for helping youth permanently exit homelessness. Over the last three years, Jovenes has tripled our capacity by creating permanent housing. We’re using a mix of public funding, private financing, effective partnerships, and innovative program design to offer youth multiple forms of permanent housing that are flexible enough to meet their needs and various challenges.

Learning from our data is critically important to improving our services. As the organization continues to grow, we are seeking to ensure that the data and information we collect from our youth can be used to better understand the unique challenges faced by our population, and institute best practices to quickly move them into permanent housing. Unfortunately, data about the overall effectiveness of housing programs for homeless youth in LA is not widely available. That’s why Jovenes is partnering with organizations like the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the LA Coalition to End Youth Homelessness to develop better sets of data and metrics so we can have a better measurement for evaluation across the city, and organize a more comprehensive Homeless Youth Point-In-Time count in January 2015 which will produce more accurate data.. We seek to be a major contributor in the development of metrics and evaluation tools that will help our community continue to improve services for homeless youth.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

1) Permanent Housing is the only way to end homelessness. For the first 20 years that Jovenes has been around, we were only able to offer short-term shelter programs to our youth. It’s unrealistic to expect homeless youth who have gone through so many traumas to turn their lives around in 90 days, or even 8 months. It didn’t provide our youth with enough time and support to recover, increase their self-confidence, build trusting relationships, visualize their goals, and put in place a plan of action. We also learned from emerging best practices and were noticing the shift in federal policies that are really emphasizing permanent housing over shelter services. It was our moment to make strategic decisions that would provide our agency with the best opportunity to grow, and provide our youth with the best opportunities to succeed. 2) It takes more than housing to help youth successfully end their personal cycles of homelessness. Bringing our youth into this campaign not only allows Jovenes to put a face on the issues surrounding youth homelessness, but is also a powerful tool to empower our youth to live successful and independent lives. We encourage our youth to think of themselves as leaders and our process is geared to bring out their voice, increase their confidence & connectedness, and become independent. To develop leadership, Jovenes creates opportunities for engagement through paid internships. A critical challenge and need for our youth is to gain work experience and develop financial independence.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The Invisible to Invincible Campaign is an on-going project that started in March 2014. Support from LA 2050 will supercharge this initiative and take our public awareness efforts to the next level. Jovenes seeks to continually hire and train interns to participate in this campaign and staff the Wellness Center office. Goals for the campaign are to hold screenings of the documentary From Invisible to Invincible at least twice per month, as well as organize events and forums on topics that are related to this campaign (such as a healthcare forum targeting at-risk youth to help and encourage them to obtain healthcare).
• March 2014- Open Wellness Center Office • April 2014- Hire 1st round of interns • May-September 2014- Hold community meetings and presentations • October 2014- TAY Healthcare Convening • November 2014- Hire 2nd round of Interns • November 2014- August 2015 continue campaign/internship activities, hold community meetings and presentations.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

1) Ensuring consistent participation from youth Interns: Homeless youth face constant instability. They are in a position where they must look out for their futures by focusing on employment and income development. As a result, taking on an internship oftentimes presents a conflict with their other priorities, such as searching for full-time jobs, applying for benefits which they are eligible for, receiving counseling, and overcoming the trauma of homelessness. By providing stipends to youth interns, we are able to develop a manageable works schedule, provide a financial incentive, and support youth in their pathway of personal growth.

2) Challenging the stereotypes: There is little widespread knowledge about homeless youth in LA, but there are common stereotypes that this population chooses to be homeless, is lazy, and that they do not make positive contributions to our society. This campaign can directly confront those stereotypes and misconceptions by showcasing the resilience of this population, highlighting their personal growth, creating understanding of their challenges, and displaying how they contribute through employment, volunteerism, and empowerment. In addition, ending youth homelessness is a public benefit that reduces costs associated with incarceration, healthcare, and emergency services.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research