Young, homeless and determined: Group tackling youth homelessness in Nashville sees payoff

Posted at 4:03 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 20:50:52-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In a bright turquoise dress, red necklace and pinned-up hair, 25-year-old Alesha Alexcee stepped up to the podium to address many members of the community including Mayor David Briley.

Speaking in her soft voice and looking vastly different from her life several years ago, Alexcee spent a few minutes to tell her story of struggle and success. Like many others before and inevitably after her, Alexcee experienced homelessness in Nashville, and managed to secure housing and go back to school.

"I thought for sure that my golden ticket out of homelessness was graduating from college or getting a good job, it was neither," Alexcee said in her speech. "It was actually signing my first lease to my first apartment on August 2, 2017 that got me out of homelessness."

The speech was part of an announcement by the Oasis Center to develop two new programs to address youth and young adult homelessness in Music City with a $3.5 million two-year grant.

There are 1,000 people under the age of 25 who are experiencing homelessness every year, according to the Coordinated Community Plan. Of the number, more than 300 are minors.

The new initiatives by the Oasis Center aim to provide immediate access to housing with no preconditions, youth choice, and trauma-informed care. The ideas were a result of a collaboration between city leaders and organizations, particularly the Youth Action Board.

YAB is a group made up young adults who are homeless or have experienced homelessness. Since it was established in April of last year, the board has been meeting at the public library every other weekend.

Alexcee is one of the members, and helped lead the conversation on putting together a forum when NewsChannel 5 was allowed to attend the small and intimate meeting a few months ago. Among the attendees was Ashley Oswald, who has previously been featured after she was able to find her own place and a job. Sitting right next to Oswald was the vivacious Steve Martinez, donning a perfectly even curled wig and a bright pink lipstick.

They make up a brady-bunch of at least 10 members with an array of personalities yet sharing one common theme: homelessness. The group has been providing input to organizations and the city to find immediate help and create long term solutions. Their vision statement is, "We in Nashville/Davidson County envision a city in which no youth or young adult experiences the indignity and trauma of homelessness."

"It's the coolest job I've ever had and it's exciting to see a lot of people in the city who actually care about what they have to say," Youth Action Board Coordinator Hannah Nell told NewsChannel 5.

When discussing about the forum, YAB created several goals to address including transportation, helping homeless college students, figuring out how to make services more known, and housing.

"Why is it important to talk about housing first at the forum and let people know about it?" Nell asked in the meeting.

"Because there is a common misconception between housing first and free housing," one member said.

Oswald and Alexcee mentioned targeting other specific populations such as pregnant women. Approximately 30 percent of at-risk or homeless females, ages 18,24, are parenting or pregnant and 10 percent of males are parenting, according to research in part by the Youth & Young Adult Committee.

Even for just one meeting, the board delved into several topics. Their work has been an ongoing effort being heard by the city.

Nashville has a chance to continue to receive approximately $1.5 million in federal grants per year for youth and young adult programming after 2021.

With the recent federal grant announcement, young adults like Alexcee hopes the work will continue as she now plans to move to New York.

"Hopefully with my lived experience, I can share that in a form of storytelling for people who may be able to relate," Alexcee said.

Meanwhile, another member is getting ready to speak at a national conference in Washington D.C.