Homeless Youth Peer Navigator Jobs Promised by Adams Now Poised to Disappear
Hired to bring ‘lived experience’ to drop-in centers for at-risk youth, 16 formerly homeless workers now face a hazy future.
Formerly homeless New Yorkers hired by the city less than a year ago for a program aimed at ending youth homelessness may already have their jobs on the chopping block.
Mayor Eric Adams last August released a plan to give jobs to 16 once-homeless youngsters who provide support at the city’s eight drop-in centers for young people.
But those so-called “peer navigator” positions seem to have disappeared from the city’s current budget — without any word from the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) about their future, operators and advocates say.
“It’s a weird place to be in, especially with the peer navigators who are still kind of doing the work,” Sebastien Vante, associate vice president at the Safe Horizon Streetwork Project drop-in center in Harlem, told THE CITY. “We just really haven’t heard back from the Department of Youth and Community Development.”
The formerly homeless people hired for those jobs rely on their own experiences to help youths between the ages of 14 and 24 navigate city services or find a place to live.
“You’re able to see somebody who’s been through the same situation that you’ve been in, and they’re able to talk to you and be a support to you while you’re going through that situation or that transition period,” said Zaqanah Stevens, 25, who is formerly homeless and now serves on the advisory board.
“It just makes it so much better because there’s someone there who really understands you, and certain things just don’t have to be explained,” Stevens said.
The $107 billion budget passed June 30, just before the deadline.
DYCD spokesperson Mark Zustovich did not address whether the 16 peer navigator positions will survive in the current budget.
“Youth and young adults in DYCD-funded runaway and homeless youth programs will continue to receive financial literacy programming this fiscal year, and providers can offer Peer Navigation programs until further notice,” Zustovich told THE CITY in a statement. “Along with Housing Navigators, these services give young people the financial tools and support they need to get on the path to more stable lives.”
The agency reached out to providers on Thursday — a day after THE CITY first asked about the positions — to let them know peer navigators can continue working until further notice, according to a DYCD official. They will begin meeting at facilities on July 20, the official said.
“The fact that the mayor cut them a year after they began is unfortunate — not just because any cuts to positions is devastating, but the fact that these are positions that were giving financial stability to young people who themselves experienced homelessness,” said Jamie Powlovich, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth.
“It speaks to the mayor publicly promoting his priorities, and then moving forward with actions that don’t align with his words.”
The Adams administration’s youth homelessness plan was funded, in part, by a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“With this plan to prevent and end youth homelessness, we are listening to our young people and stepping up with new investments and programs to support them,” Adams said last August.
Months later, however, the city angered providers and advocates when operators were ordered to bar young people from “resting” at overnight drop-in centers and instructed to remove cots and recliners.
Cutting the 16 peer navigator jobs — which pay between $40,000 and $48,000 annually, a provider said — would be another blow to the agency, according to formerly homeless youth.
Onyx Walker was homeless as a teen and last year joined the youth advisory board that meets with city and other officials.
The peer counselor posts “represented that young people could be viewed as professionals and were no longer reduced to just their lived experience — it then became lived expertise,” said Walker, 25, who lives in Queens and works with homeless teens.
“It created an opportunity for employment for folks who are formerly homeless or are currently homeless,” he said.
“When they take those jobs off the table, they’re taking away the opportunity for young people in that circumstance to slowly become acclimated as professionals.”