The Grand Challenge to End Youth Homelessness: Lessons Learned

The Grand Challenge to End Youth Homelessness launched with its first 5 communities in October of 2019 and communities have successfully completed the first “action cycle,” the period of time between convenings where all Grand Challenge communities are back in their community, focused on advancing the work. We are proud to work alongside Miami-Dade County, Florida, Greater Richmond, Virginia, Hennepin County, Minnesota, and Sacramento & San Francisco, California to prove an end to youth homelessness is possible and excited to share our progress on this journey so far.


Team Development

The work of the Grand Challenge is fundamentally oriented around and focused on transformation. We are learning about what relationships already exist and what relationships need to be formed in order to do this work in a transformative way. Grand Challenge communities and team members have worked to develop and support:

  • Grand Challenge Community “Ride or Die” Teams
    • These teams are the true youth homelessness movement “ride or dies”, advancing their community toward achievement of the aim and owning the audacity and necessity of the work. Each team is made up of 5 – 10 community members comprised of people with lived experience and community leaders committed to ending youth homelessness. Follow our social accounts @AWayHomeAmerica for upcoming introductions to Grand Challenge Ride or Die teams! 
      • Continuous Improvement: The expectation is 51% of young people with lived experience make up each community Ride or Die Team. This makeup has not been met in the majority of Grand Challenge communities to date and is a focus of our next phase.
  • A Way Home America Grand Challenge Team 
    • The Grand Challenge team is made up of national youth homelessness leaders with experience in youth collaboration, youth homelessness, racial and LGBTQ+ equity, and continuous improvement. You can meet the Grand Challenge team at:
      • Continuous Improvement: We are adjusting the faculty support that we offer as we learn what the communities need.

System Accountability Assessment (SAA)

  • SAA supports each community to identify strengths and challenges with their homelessness response systems in answering the question, “Does our community know all young people experiencing homelessness?”  We know of no other review of community coordinated entry systems through an equity and youth collaboration lens. 
  • The SAA was conducted in each community over a two day period with the community RoD teams and other partners in the youth homelessness work. Conversations highlighted great work that is happening in communities as well as work that needs to begin or be improved. Each community noted a strength of having youth specific access points. Communities all highlighted a need to improve their work with undocumented youth as well as improved youth collaboration across their systems.   Version 1 of the SAA is available here and an overview of community responses can be viewed here.
    • Continuous Improvement: The SAA was considered inaccessible by some Grand Challenge community and team members, specifically the language and terminology used. We are working on improving the accessibility of the tool and look forward to sharing Version 2 of the SAA mid-year! 

Next Steps

  • Community visit #2 in each of the participating Grand Challenge communities
  • Establish necessary data reporting infrastructure in each community to begin collecting and reporting data monthly
  • Launch second cohort of communities in fall 2020 
  • Support Grand Challenge communities to achieve the 51% youth with lived experience requirement on each “Ride or Die” team 
  • Finalize Version 2 of the SAA

We close this action cycle confident of the commitment present in each community and grateful for the energy and integrity each team member is bringing to the work. It is striking to reflect on the progress we’ve made as a movement — three years ago the loudest perspective in the movement was one of concern and risk around centering youth of color and LGBTQ youth explicitly in our aim statement. Today, five front-runner communities are underway, expressing a deep belief in the Grand Challenge aim and our Theory of Change, and the field has radically shifted in its centering of racial equity in the work. 

Sarah Mikhail

Grand Challenge National Director