LAS VEGAS – Niraya Gregory, 19, experienced homelessness as a child with her mother and siblings, and later by herself.
“I was afraid of how I was going to eat, where I was going to go. I was afraid of what I was going to do for my future,” Gregory said.
Gregory spoke at a recent summit to end youth homelessness on behalf of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY), an organization that helps homeless youth find stable housing, complete an education and find careers. NPHY helped Gregory get off the streets three years ago and she now has her own apartment.
“One of the most extreme and worsening affordable housing and eviction crises in the nation happening in our state continues to cast a dark shadow over youth’s independent living prospects,” Arash Ghafoori, executive director of the NPHY, said in his opening statement at the Nevada Youth Homelessness Summit. The summit was held in Las Vegas on Nov. 8 at the Smith Center for Performing Arts.
Nationwide, 23.7% of all people experiencing homelessness were under the age of 25 in 2022.
The national report identifies unaccompanied children and youth —that is, without a parent or guardian present – under age 25 experiencing homelessness. Although Nevada’s 2022 figure represents a decline in youth homelessness since 2020, the annual Las Vegas summit to address youth homelessness expanded its mission this year to include all of Nevada because organizers said it is an issue that affects the whole state.
The summit showcased presentations and panel discussions about the present conditions of youth homelessness and existing preventive systems. One measure organizers pointed to is the creation of safe places at libraries, fire departments and local businesses where youth aged 18 and below can go and get help.
Summit participants focused on identifying ideas that can be translated into tangible solutions, such as enhanced accessibility of mental health services for youth, establishing even more safe spaces and organizing fundraisers aimed at eradicating youth homelessness.
According to the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, in Nevada there were a total of 798 children and adults experiencing homelessness, and 376 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2022.
“It’s imperative that we meet their immediate needs and provide sustainable housing solutions for these young people who represent our future,” Ghafoori said.
During the panel discussion, Gregory and others emphasized that mental health plays a factor in the struggle to get youth out of a state of homelessness.
According to research from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ College of Urban Affairs on the state of youth homelessness in southern Nevada, “every day a homeless youth spends on the streets increases their likelihood of engaging in substance abuse, developing mental and physical health problems … and becoming a homeless adult, creating costly and long-term problems for themselves and their communities.” It also stated that exposure to trauma and abuse in childhood contributes to the risk of lifetime homelessness.
Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation also highlights problems that are amplified for homeless youth, such as being “more likely than their peers in the general population to endure threats to their health, safety and well-being,” threats that include mental health problems, substance abuse problems, being physically or sexually assaulted and trafficked for sex or labor.
“We are so focused on a microwavable plan where we don’t take the time to work hard for it, to fight for it, and we are going to constantly keep fighting. This fight never stops and I am fully aware of that,” Gregory said.
“I’m committed to ending youth homelessness in Nevada and beyond,” Ghafoori said. “Every young person deserves a chance at a life filled with hope, dignity and promise.”