Empower Consumers

Involving consumers in decisions about LGBTQI2-S youth homeless service design, delivery, and evaluation embodies a strengths-based, person-centered approach. This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless.

This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless. It was derived from the results of a Listening Tour of programs serving this population. Visit the Listening Tour Page for more information, or read the draft report: Learning from the Field: Programs Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

“Give the young people a voice and you will see positive change in a program.” – Listening Tour Program service provider

Many homeless service agencies consider consumer empowerment to be a best practice. Involving consumers in decisions about service design, delivery, and evaluation embodies a strengths-based, person-centered approach.

Key lessons learned about integrating and empowering LGBTQI2-S youth consumers include:

Create advisory opportunities.

Including youth in advisory councils is one way that programs can ensure consumer voices are shaping a program. The UCAN Host Home Program has included two youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S in their Advisory Council, where all decisions are made by consensus. This includes the approval of volunteer host families as well as program policies. Youth on Fire has an all-youth advisory board that has a significant role in shaping the culture and making decisions at the drop-in center. “Any kind of situation that’s happening in the center is always pushed to the youth advisory board. They make the final recommendations to do what works for members in the space.” One of the more important roles of the youth advisory board is their applicant-hiring committee. Applicants meet with the panel of members who have the ability to recommend or deny applicants before they are hired. “This level of control is empowering to our members,” said one staff member. “You see a side of applicants that comes out in the youth interviews that does not come out with staff. Sometimes members can better tell if the applicant ‘gets it’ with regard to GLBT issues.” (For more information about hiring appropriate staff, see Develop a Culturally Competent Staff)

Invite youth to serve as peer outreach workers.

LGBTQI2-S youth consumers can serve as peer ambassadors to other youth who may be weary of social services. Peers can sometimes communicate more effectively about the benefits of service programs than staff can. Larkin Street Youth Services, Outside In, and Youth on Fire recruit program participants to serve as outreach workers among peers. One Larkin Street Youth Services staff member shared, “Young people are the perfect advertisement for the program.” These programs found that youth on the street are often resistant to adults approaching them and providing guidance. For many, help has frequently come with a cost. Yet, when a peer who identifies as LGBTQI2-S shares what has worked for them, their common experience may serve as a foundation to build trust. Additionally, youth experiencing homelessness are often invisible to service providers. Peers can help bring information to an otherwise difficult to reach group.

Engage youth to provide feedback about community programs.

Staff at The Ruth Ellis Center found that eliciting feedback from youth who receive referrals is a powerful way to have their voice heard. After making referrals to clinics or doctors, the program’s Health Navigator will talk with the youth about their experiences. “One of our young people preferred to be called Tamara instead of her given name, Thomas, but the doctor was unwilling to do that. We listen to that feedback and take that into account when making future referrals. It’s really important to us that the young people’s experiences inform how we do our work,” said the Executive Director. In addition to identifying culturally competent providers for referrals, this is a meaningful way to integrate consumer voices. (For more information about making culturally competent referrals, see Develop Community Partnerships)

Be sure that input is put into action.

Programs that seek consumer input must be prepared to respond. The Ruth Ellis Center learned this through their youth advisory council. “We’ve tried youth advisory councils in the past, but struggled to implement the requests of the youth. It was defeating. We are rethinking our strategy because you can’t ask for youth input and ultimately ignore it. They’ve been through that before, and it’s not positive for anyone.” Youth advisory councils have the ability to empower young people, but programs must have policies in place to review and take action on their recommendations.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA