Housing with Hope: Oshun turns lived experience with homelessness into action

Oshun had barely finished high school before facing nights sleeping on the street. Kicked out of her parents’ home at 18 years old, she was left to assume responsibility for herself with nowhere to go and few she could trust. It was a scary time.

While staying at a shelter, Oshun met with her church pastor and shared her situation. Her pastor referred her to the Villa’s Flagler Housing Resource Center in Petersburg. Oshun connected with our Youth Outreach Specialist, and says that’s when everything started looking up.

“The next thing you know, St. Joseph’s Villa was calling me with great news and great opportunities.”

Oshun soon began meeting with members of the Flagler team. It didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable communicating her needs and hopes for housing. Staff allowed her to lead conversations, and presented the resources and services available to help her reach her goals. She says that she could always count on support whenever she called.

After a year participating in the Flagler program, Oshun obtained a new job, and an apartment in her own name.

“I can decorate. I have hardwood floors. I love it, I really do. It’s the best feeling to be happy.”

Now that Oshun has gained indepen­dence and reached a more stable place in her life, she’s paying it forward by help­ing other youth who are experiencing homelessness. She currently serves on the Crater Region’s Youth Action Board (YAB), a group which has been facilitated by Flagler for the last three years.

The YAB is a standing sub-committee of the Crater Area Coalition on Homelessness (CACH), comprised of individuals ages 14-24 with lived experience. Young leaders like Oshun bring a wealth of insights around issues related to youth homelessness, with the goal of guiding service providers and key stakeholders in improving the quality and effectiveness of housing interventions.

“The YAB has our youth at the table, and they’re letting everyone know ‘this is what we need, and this is what we’re going through,’” said Kelly Green- Bloomfield, Flagler’s Director of Program Operations. “Instead of speaking for them, they’re speaking and we’re listening.”

Flagler offers transportation for YAB members to attend meetings. For those unable to attend in person, staff ensure they have the capability to join virtually so their voice can still be heard. Oshun says she loves the meetings and inter­actions, and having the support of staff who can relate to their experiences.

Last year, HUD awarded $1.5 million for the Crater Region’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (YHDP). YAB members will be at the forefront of developing a coordinated community plan to prevent and end youth home­lessness, by helping select which projects submitted by service providers will be funded by the HUD grant.

For Oshun, that means an opportunity to be seen, and the chance to change lives in her community.

“I know how it feels not to have a support system,” said Oshun. “I want to make a difference for other youth so that when they need help, they’re not afraid to ask.”

The Flagler Housing Resource Center has moved! Our new offices at 24 S. Adams Street offer greater accessibility for clients and space specifically devoted to serving youth like Oshun. We’re excited about the opportunities our new location will provide to enhance service delivery for individuals and families we serve throughout the Tri-Cities region.

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