Get to Know a Grantee: Larkin Street Youth Services

Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco has been a crucial component of the city’s Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) service system since 1984. They have also been a Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) grantee for more than 30 years. The National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families (NCHYF) spoke with Larkin Street’s Development Director, Clare Armbruster, to learn more about Larkin Street’s long, successful history and bright future.  

What sets your organization apart from other similar organizations?

Larkin Street offers a full continuum of services for RHY, including housing, education, employment, and health and well-being services so young people can move from crisis to stability. We are the largest housing provider in San Francisco with multiple housing options to meet the diverse needs of the young people we serve. About 400 young people per night stay in our housing, and that has gone up since COVID-19, to about 500.

We have 35 years of experience and use data to inform services and make public policy recommendations. As part of this work, we have a Youth Advisory Board, which is a leadership and advocacy program dedicated to ensuring that youth voices and experiences are heard and prioritized across the agency.

Runaway and homeless young people are vulnerable in normal times, but as you mention, COVID-19 has made that situation even more difficult. As one of the biggest RHY service providers in San Francisco, how has this virus impacted your work and how are you adjusting?

The recent spread of coronavirus poses an additional and unprecedented threat to the health of our youth and those in our community, while illuminating gaps in our social safety net that disproportionately affect our society’s most vulnerable. Our primary focus has been the health and safety of the youth we serve, as well as our staff. We have responded rapidly to maintain critical, life-saving services that young people need to come inside, get housed, and rebuild their lives, which is now more critical than ever. 

Our housing programs remain fully operational, as are many other essential services. Precautions we have taken including changes in meal service delivery, class sizes, increased janitorial services, and more – all in alignment with recommendations from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH). We remain in close communication with DPH and HSH to ensure that we are incorporating new information and guidance quickly and comprehensively. 

 While older people and those with underlying conditions are considered at highest risk for COVID-19, the facts regarding young people experiencing homelessness tell a very different story. These youth lack access to housing, healthcare, and other basic needs and opportunities which are essential to maintaining well-being, including education, employment, and secure community connections. As a result, prior to COVID-19, studies showed that unhoused youth have a mortality rate nearly eleven times that of their housed peers. Additionally, 45% of Larkin Street clients report unmet health needs upon entry, which may put them at higher risk of complications from the virus.

What do you wish more people in your community (or the country) understood about youth homelessness?

Structural and pervasive racism and homophobia make youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth more likely to experience homelessness. We also know that rates of COVID-19 infection are disproportionately high among communities of color, including youth. This discrepancy is not explained by poverty alone.

How long have you had a FYSB grant?

We have managed Administration for Children and Families/Administration on Children, Youth and Families /FYSB Basic Center Program grants since 1989, Street Outreach Program grants since 1996, and Transitional Living Program grants since 2000, except for 2014-2016.

What other sources of funding are essential to your programs?

Our budget is about 60% private and 40% public. We are always trying to increase private revenue to ensure we have flexibility and diverse funding streams.  

What have been your most important collaborations with local partners?

We are currently part of a public-private partnership called Rising Up, which is aimed at cutting youth homelessness by 50% by 2023. We have enlisted city and state governments and are continually seeking opportunities to broaden our reach with other government agencies. We’ve also secured funding and input from local companies including Airbnb and AT&T, as well as community agencies. Larkin Street serves as the anchor institution for this initiative as well as for other collaborations among nonprofits. 


About the Get to Know a Grantee series

The National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth & Families (NCHYF) developed the Get to Know a Grantee questionnaire to illustrate the great variety of youth-serving Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) grantees, to share their insights, experiences, and ideas, and to inspire collaboration.

We regularly share responses from RHY grantees to build understanding about the needs of runaway and homeless youth or, for grantees, to highlight new approaches or strategies to inspire the work to support vulnerable youth. Please contact NCHYF if you have a grantee program for NCHYF to consider.