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The Current State of Homelessness for Young People

Publish Date: November 24, 2020

Dear Friend,

For months I’ve described ways the pandemic is affecting Milwaukee’s most vulnerable and marginalized young people. Many youth experiencing housing instability are unable to stay with friends and family due to COVID-19 related health concerns. Others are spending more time with their abusers, which further escalates crises. Even before COVID-19, young people experiencing homelessness face some of the highest barriers to well-being in the nation.

The pandemic places disproportionate pressure on communities of color. Low-wage jobs already had young people struggling to keep up with basic monthly expenses like rent, food and transportation. But the loss of these jobs and the K-shaped recovery (where those who are financially stable are thriving and those among us who have the lowest income are continually worse off economically) have exacerbated the situation.

The increased isolation our young people are facing has led to more mental health crises. The heightened awareness of racial inequities has some young people feeling empowered while others feel even more scared for their safety. Plus we’re facing a significant increase in community violence as the intersections of poverty, illness, housing instability and mental health issues collide.

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and National Runaway Prevention Month – a time to acknowledge those children and young families experiencing homelessness and its associated traumas. As many as 15,000 young people in our community experience homelessness each year.

Currently there are so many young people on Milwaukee’s housing wait list that it’s been suspended – there is literally nowhere for hundreds and hundreds of young people to go right now. This is the dire nature of the pandemic and why your support of Pathfinders continues to be critical.

Today I have hopeful news to share – Pathfinders is growing. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of this pandemic, high unemployment and an economy that has yet to rebound for those in the lowest economic brackets, my team worked collectively in all areas of our operation to write strong, competitive public and private grant applications.

I am honored to share that Pathfinders has been awarded five government grants and two private gifts totaling more than $1 million for 2021; many of these gifts will renew for two additional years. Here’s how that will impact our services.


  • Pathfinders will more than double the number of young people receiving housing from us, including monthly rent and intensive case management and wraparound services for young people 17-25.
  • A portion of these youth will be part of an innovative collaboration at Pathfinders to provide longer-term housing to young people experiencing sexual exploitation and trafficking.


  • This significant increase in resources will allow Pathfinders to add a full-time youth advocate position and a therapist to serve more young people who have experienced sexual exploitation and trafficking. Funding will also provide resources to the community response collaborative Pathfinders leads.
  • Pathfinders is one of nine organizations nationally, including Legal Action of Wisconsin, that received this federal funding


  • Funding will allow Pathfinders to hire a community-based case manager to support those experiencing homelessness who are living in hotels without any additional resources or connections to services in order to help them find long-term stability.
  • Our Street Outreach program is one of 30 agencies across the US, the only one in WI, to receive funding for our efforts to engage with young people in vulnerable neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee to provide case management, basic needs and harm reduction resources. This program has experienced significant government grant cuts over the last decade, so we’re excited to expand our work.

We are honored and humbled to receive these awards and we’re incredibly grateful for our government and private partners. At the same time, this funding only scratches the surface of the resources needed by our community’s most vulnerable young people. These grants do not cover full operating costs or allow real-time flexibility to meet critical emerging needs, making the financial support of our individual, foundation, corporate and organizational donors critical to our success.

Know that your investments make our work possible. Together we will offer more supported housing and street outreach, day shelter, emergency shelter, educational, mental health and substance abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking services. Together we can ensure all youth are safe, healthy, independent and valued. And in partnership, we can continue empowering youth and changing lives.

Yours in gratitude,

Tim Baack
President & CEO

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