The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.
Laramie County is located in the southeast corner of Wyoming, housing roughly 97,000 residents in its 2,600 square mile plot of land. The community has utilized their county needs assessment to help identify and shape health priorities for the future.
In Laramie County, many youth are left empty-handed; they don’t have hope for the future, a goal to strive toward, or a vision to search for. Many experience trauma, yet don’t have the skills needed to navigate through it. A large number find themselves without a home, whether that be out of necessity for safety or by force. The need for resiliency is not an unknown problem in the United States, but in Laramie County, it became clear that to build resiliency, housing stability for local youth had to be first priority. After a Point-in-Time count was facilitated by those on the Strong Families action team of the Laramie County Community Partnership, the need was clear: there were too many homeless youth in Laramie County. The necessary resources to ensure safe and stable housing for youth were virtually non-existent.
In what started as a homeless youth initiative, more than a dozen previous or currently homeless youth were asked: “What do you need most? What would help you through this difficult time?” Previously-homeless youth were asked “What helped you when you needed it most?” The resounding answer was the need for a place to call home. As a result, a coalition of over 65 agencies and organizations banded together to share their fiscal and human resources to serve vulnerable populations in their community. Coalition members worked with local government agencies, non profits, hospital workers, realtors, developers on how to set young people up for success, and to not only survive, but to thrive in the community.
THE BRIGHT SPOT
Before talking to their homeless youth, there was hesitancy around rezoning land to build a stable home for them in Laramie County, for fear of the unknown. The community had never had resources in place for young people experiencing homelessness. Now, the community has embraced homeless youth with open arms through the Unaccompanied Students Initiative. A pilot house that Laramie County youth age 16-20 can call home, complete with bedrooms, bathrooms, storage, and a houseparent, is up and running with a twin house on the way. Together, the community is breaking the cycle of homelessness. They are lifting up generations of young people, encouraging completion of high school, and therefore ensuring the future of their community is bright.
“We want kids to feel safe enough to dream. If they are trying to figure out what they’re going to eat, where they’re going live, they are not focused on 5-10 years down the road of where they want to be in life – it’s more surviving. If we can stabilize that security and allow them to think about what they want to do, that impact is everything.” – Stacy Strasser, Co-Chair, Strong Families Action Team’s Unaccompanied Student Initiative
The future of the Laramie County Unaccompanied Student Initiative is about working to ensure young people in other Wyoming counties are given the same opportunities for success by scaling the Laramie County project to each county’s needs. Stakeholders from across the state have begun to work together to identify resources and gaps in the work to provide stable housing to youth in need. Youth are identifying and naming their trauma and using it to be leaders in their community. Youth in the community are finishing high school and going on to college or the workforce, all because they were given stability and the chance to dream.