BOSTON, Mass. — Since age 10, E.R. Fletcher has lived most days, not knowing if they have a place to call home. Now 22, Fletcher first ended up living on the streets after leaving an abusive home.
"Homelessness has always intersected my identity growing up," Fletcher said.
Fletcher is also transgender. He is accounting for an estimated 40% of homeless youth who identify as LGBT.
"I should be celebrating this but I’m so busy trying not to starve that I can’t even think of what my identity is," they added.
Millions of young people in this country experience homelessness yearly, including 26-year-old Armani Pascual, who first became homeless at age 15.
"I wasn’t able to finish school because I didn’t know where I would sleep after school so I would stay where I was at so I had a spot," Pascual said.
But Connor Shoen is trying to change the status quo.
"The challenges they’re facing are very different from older adults facing chronic homelessness," the Shoen said.
Back in college, the 23-year-old and a friend were volunteering at a youth homeless shelter in Boston, Massachusetts. They realized many of the young people they saw were experiencing homelessness because they couldn’t hold down a job.
So at 18, Shoen co-founded a non-profit called Breaktime.
"What I saw over and over again when I was working at a youth shelter and young people would get a job for a few weeks but then a few weeks in something would happen," he noted.
The idea of Boston-based Breaktime is to help get homeless youth job training and placement that helps them break the cycle of homelessness long-term. Young people in the program go through three phases of training.
Phase one is “Launchpad,” three weeks of work readiness coaching and financial advising.
Phase two is “Liftoff,” a three-month job placement at a local non-profit or small business. But participants' paychecks are coming from Breaktime thanks in part to grants and donations.
"Young people get to work in the community. They’re on our payroll so they have the security of a paycheck every week and build up skills in the long term," Schoen said.
The final phase of the program is called “Stable Orbit,” where young people get three years of follow-up support as they secure full-time jobs and housing.
"We provide financial assistance, monthly check-ins and intervene when things are going array," Shoen added.
In the last few years the program has helped more than 110 homeless youth find employment, and according to Breaktime, 77% of their alumni also now have stable housing.
Including Armani Pascual.
"I got approved for an apartment because someone sat down and taught me the things I should’ve been taught as a child," Pascual said.
Breaktime’s founders want to eventually get the attention of lawmakers and find a way to expand the program into communities from coast-to-coast.
Their hope is to one day break the cycle of youth homelessness by giving young people the kinds of careers they can flourish in.
"From city hall to the state house to the halls of Congress to ensure legislators are making informed decisions how to advance policy, distributing funding," Shoen said.