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Briarpatch joins national collaboration on connections between homelessness & juvenile justice


The team at Briarpatch Youth Services have joined a national collaboration to address the relationship between teen homelessness and the juvenile justice system charges in a project called the Collaborating for Change Learning Network. 

They are collaborating with National League of Cities, Institute for Youth, Education and Families, the National Association of Counsel for Children, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Network for Youth. 

“We’re actually celebrating 50 years this year, of being in Dane County serving our most vulnerable children and families,” said Gloria Reyes, Briarpatch CEO. “And we focus on serving our homeless youth. We offer wraparound services for youth who currently are justice involved, who are in the criminal justice system. We do have support for those youth who are finding themselves homeless and no place to stay. We have a homeless shelter in Briarpatch. We provide parents support as well because we really try to keep families together. So if we have a young person who has run away and (has) no place to go, we really try to work with the parent and family to transition them back into home. And that’s really our first priority.”

Briarpatch has programs that focus on restorative justice, street outreach, and intensive supervision. The restorative justice program focuses on providing young people who have committed a violation other options instead of going into a formal, juvenile process of receiving a ticket court process. The street outreach program puts workers in the communities and schools to engage with youth and meet their needs. The intensive supervision program provides supervision to youth who are in the justice system.               

“We also have Teens Like Us, it’s an LGBTQ+ program where we support young people who are coming out, who are having some challenges in coming out with their families or not being accepted,” said Reyes. “And just really a place where they feel welcome and at home where they can come and find support. And we also have parent support, which is such an integral part in our services because parents we believe are at the center of really trying to maneuver the complexities and the emotional trauma that our young people may be experiencing.”

The 2021 Collaborating for Change Learning Network and Briarpatch are collaborating to help young people fight against homeless and the criminal justice system. They are conducting research with experts and organizations to find strategies to continue to support youth, especially youth of color.        

“This was an opportunity that came up for us and it’s a technical assistance process,” Reyes said. “So we’re going to be working with national organizations, experts in this field, and other cities who are really wanting to make the connection between homelessness and the juvenile justice system. And figure out how we can alleviate homelessness and entering kids into our juvenile justice system. It’s going to be focused on the Principles for Change.”

Some Principles for Change include ensuring that the laws and policies in your jurisdiction do not lead youth experiencing homelessness to be cited, arrested or charged for survival acts or “quality of life” offenses, and that young people are diverted from juvenile justice system involvement whenever possible. These diversion programs or services need to be appropriately tailored to meet the needs of youth experiencing homelessness. This initiative is intended to draw a connection between homelessness and the criminalization of youth, while finding solutions and providing resources for both issues. 

“What I really want us to do is a collaborative look at our data. Figure out where the data takes us and identify strategies as a collective to improve the lives of young people in this community who are homeless, vulnerable, in dangerous situations, like human trafficking,” Reyes said. “And really identify what are the issues, what’s the data telling us. And implement policies, work with our court system, our judges and work with our government leaders, our elected officials to make a commitment based on our findings and our recommendations to help support organizations who work with our homeless youth in Dane County.” 

For more information about Briarpatch Youth Services and the 2021 Collaborating for Change Learning Network, visit https://youthsos.org/