Create a youth development department in Los Angeles

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In summary

The proposal would create a department to centralize LA’s youth programs, which are currently spread across 26 departments.

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By Kelly Bruno, special for CalMatters

Kelly Bruno is President and CEO of the National Health Foundation, kbruno@nhfca.org.

Last month, a motion was brought to the Los Angeles City Council that has the power to enact real and lasting change for young people and the city.

Led by Council members Kevin de León, Monica Rodriguez and Nithya Raman, the legislation would create a desperately needed youth development department to centralize programs for LA’s youth, which are currently inefficiently spread across 26 departments.

In the city of Los Angeles, more than 200,000 young people live below poverty, almost 69,000 are disconnected from school and the labor market, and more than 3,000 young people are homeless. It’s the reality I see every day as President and CEO of the National Health Foundation, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of underprivileged communities.

Inherent in NHF’s work is the belief that young people are full members of their communities, as they are their own experts on issues and barriers that affect not only themselves, but their families, friends and neighbours.

Unlike many other organizations, the National Health Foundation does not seek to empower young people – we know they are already powerful. Instead, we provide young people with the resources they need to advance their own solutions that center their individual lived experiences.

The National Health Foundation supports the creation of a youth development department because it would harness the often overlooked power of young people by connecting them to essential tools missing from underresourced communities. As the motion itself states, “Young people deserve government that is structured and designed to meet the needs (of young people) informed by their voice, not the obsolete preservation of unmeasured programs”.

The need for a centralized youth development service is becoming more urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Here in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness has partnered with the Lens Co research foundation to understand the needs of homeless youth during the pandemic. They found that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of respondents, 81%, were either out of work or unemployed at the start of the pandemic and remain unemployed.

When asked what services or programs they wanted to access but hadn’t been able to access since the start of the pandemic, 41% of young people surveyed said housing services, 35% said job readiness training. employment and employment services, and 33% said education programs. It paints an undeniable reality: Los Angeles is failing its young people when they need us most. There is a clear need for services specifically designed by and for local youth and to address their unique barriers to success. So far, the call has gone unanswered.

The COVID-19 statistics that we have all been watching closely for the past year tell us how many lives we have directly lost to COVID-19. But what about indirect losses? What about young people in Los Angeles from communities that were already struggling to access vital education, jobs, healthcare, and even food before this pandemic began?

By doing nothing and letting the status quo continue, we are telling these young people that their lives have no value. That their fights are not our fights. That we find it acceptable that they do not have the ability to realize their full potential. I speak for myself and for the National Health Foundation when I say that we do not find this acceptable.

The Los Angeles City Council must pass this measure to form a dedicated youth development department because young people in Los Angeles deserve a government that works for them. By empowering our youth to have a say in the services and programs they need today, we prepare them to be the informed, change-making community advocates of tomorrow that our city so desperately needs.

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