“We need to continue to create more opportunities for those that struggle … to make sure that they’re able to stabilize and so that they can also look at just beyond surviving day by day, but really start to live life and understand where they want to go in their own job, and their personal journey,” Jovenes executive director Andrea Marchetti said.
Based in Boyle Heights, Jovenes has served more than 25 cities in Southeast Los Angeles County and beyond for more than 30 years. The organization, which serves young adults between 18 and 24, has programs like the College Success Initiative, which finds housing solutions for college students to allow them to focus on their studies as well as the Host Homes program, which relies on community members to volunteer their homes for unhoused youth.
The work of local organizations like Jovenes is especially important for such a vulnerable age group, according to USC professor Nicole Esparza, who focuses on homeless and low-income populations. California has a particularly high cost of living, which worsens the homelessness crisis for youth statewide, she said. In Los Angeles County, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates that more than 3,700 youth between ages 18 and 24 are unhoused.
Marchetti said it’s very difficult for unhoused youth to focus on getting a job or plan for their future, especially for those who have mental illnesses or disabilities and need to receive treatment.
To support young people with their education, Jovenes offers the College Success Initiative program to combine academic and traditional case management. It also offers long-term and stable housing options to lessen the strain and allow students to focus on their education.
“Colleges started to see this transformation in terms of their self-esteem, their motivation and grades started to improve,” Marchetti said. “Before, they were not able to graduate, [now they] were able to graduate as a traditional student that maybe lives at home with a strong family support behind them.”
The College Success Initiative was originally started due to the staggering amount of college students that were homeless. In the California State University system, nearly 11% of students experience homelessness, according to director of development and strategic partnerships Eric Hubbard. Hubbard, who has worked with Jovenes for more than 15 years, said he believes the organization can help by innovating new ways to reach out to different populations.
Jovenes started the program by approaching local community colleges like East L.A. College and L.A. Trade Tech to better understand how many youths aren’t enrolled, he said. Today, the College Success Initiative has now partnered with over 10 colleges and universities and was a model for legislation in 2019 to create pilot programs, which are now being pushed out statewide, Hubbard added.
Marchetti hopes to continue to improve Jovenes so it can sustain and help more people. Currently, the organization helps 500 youth access stable living, but hopes to grow as they expand their resources.
“You can’t end something like homelessness without eradicating poverty, without eradicating mental health crisis and disorder, without really fundamentally changing everything about society from the top down,” Hubbard said.
Jovenes also offers another program called Host Homes, which allows for families to volunteer their home for up to six months in order to help college students. Program coordinator Henry Flores, who oversees the program, finds it unique to Jovenes, compared to the group homes where he first worked before joining the organization.
While youth only needs to meet the age requirement and be considered homeless to participate, volunteer hosts must have a spare bedroom, pass a background check and be 21 years or older, Flores said. To move forward, they first schedule a meeting between the host and the youth, he added.
Jovenes’ Host Home program closely works with the College Success Initiative. Flores said Host Homes gets referrals from the college initiative for college students in need of housing.
At Jovenes’ Richard Estrada Youth Center in Whittier, program supervisor Muzme Aleman works diligently to care for unhoused youth. Aleman said she believes that everyone deserves a second chance at life.
“My personal goal is to make sure everybody who walks in the door… will have somewhere safe to sleep,” Aleman said.
Aleman said Jovenes is open to everyone, regardless of age or gender.
“We say 18 to 24, but if a 17-year-old is hungry, we don’t close the doors for them,” Aleman said. “There’s always food, snacks, and clothes here. They’re always welcome to come here.”