In summary

Proposal would create a department to centralize L.A.’s youth programs, which are currently spread across 26 departments.

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By Kelly Bruno, Special to CalMatters

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

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

Led by Councilmembers Kevin de León, Monica Rodriguez and Nithya Raman, the legislation would create a desperately-needed Youth Development Department to centralize Los Angeles’ youth programs, which are currently spread ineffectually across 26 departments.

In the city of Los Angeles, more than 200,000 youth live below poverty, nearly 69,000 are disconnected from school and the workforce, and more than 3,000 youth are experiencing homelessness. This is the reality that I see every day as the president and CEO of National Health Foundation, a leading nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of under-resourced communities.

Inherent to NHF’s work is the belief that youth are integral members of their communities, as they are their own experts on the issues and barriers that impact not only themselves, but their families, friends and neighbors. 

Unlike many other organizations, the National Health Foundation does not seek to empower youths – 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.

National Health Foundation supports the creation of a Youth Development Department because it would harness the often-neglected power of youth by connecting them with the critical tools absent in under-resourced communities. As the motion itself states, “Young people deserve a government structured and designed to meet (youth’s) needs informed by their voice, not outdated preservation of unmeasured programs.”

The need for a centralized Youth Development Department grows more urgent by the day as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on. Here in L.A., the Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness partnered with the research foundation Lens Co to understand the needs of youths experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. They found that, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of those surveyed, 81%, were either no longer employed or were unemployed at the start of the pandemic and remained unemployed.

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

The COVID-19 stats we’ve all closely watched for a year tell us how many lives we’ve directly lost due to COVID-19. But what about the indirect losses? What about Los Angeles’ young people from communities who were already struggling to access vital education, jobs, health care and even food before this pandemic began? 

By doing nothing and allowing the status quo to continue, we tell these young people that their lives are not valuable. That their struggles are not our struggles. That we find it acceptable if they do not have the ability to meet their full potential. I speak for myself and National Health Foundation when I say we do not find this acceptable.

The Los Angeles City Council must pass this measure to form a dedicated Youth Development Department because the youth of Los Angeles deserve a government that works for them. By allowing our young people 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 our city so desperately needs.

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