Last week, employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing received the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals for a program that connects transition-age youth to housing.
The entire Office of Public and Indian Housing’s Foster Youth to Independence team won the management excellence award. But the judges singled out Michelle Daniels, Charles D. Eldridge and Ryan E. Jones for work creating and implementing a program that offers housing assistance and social services to young people just as they are aging out of foster care. The assistance prevents these young people from becoming homeless and gives them a shot at achieving self-sufficiency.
Listening to transition-age youth tell him about their housing struggles in 2019 motivated Jones, HUD’s deputy director of Housing Voucher Management and Operations, to act quickly to help them secure vouchers.
Four months after HUD leaders greenlighted the idea, Jones, along with housing program specialist Michelle Daniels, program analyst Eldridge and others launched the first-of-its-kind housing voucher program using existing federal funding.
They partnered with local nonprofits, public child welfare agencies and public housing authorities and started moving hundreds of aging-out 18- to 24-year-olds into stable housing with the help of rental assistance and other support services. This stability allows them to work toward their educational and employment goals and full adult independence.
“This program found a way to move faster than usual. We all came together, the housing authorities, the field offices, all of us gave our 110% best to move the program along and get these youth housed successfully,” Eldridge said in a statement to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which selects the winners of the annual Sammies, as the awards are called informally.
Congress was so impressed with the pilot program’s initial success that it approved $20 million for fiscal 2021 to continue the foster youth initiative.
The Sammies are awarded to government workers and government partners in several categories. Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, for example, won the Spirit of Service medal for her philanthropic commitment to systemic social change.