Learn how you can be the change during National Homeless Youth Awareness Month this November 

Wednesday November 1, 2023

Every November, KCSOS’s Foster and Homeless Youth Education Program, the Kern County Network for Children’s Dream Center, Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative (BKRHC), and many other local organizations pool their resources to bring awareness to youth homelessness. For KCSOS Peer Support Specialist Gennessa Fisher, this month is also a time to advocate for more compassion for all people experiencing homelessness.

Fisher lived on the streets for a year and a half herself during her teen years. Because she knew maintaining her mental health was important, she was able to see a therapist who directed her to look for resources at the Dream Center. After several attempts to get Fisher to visit the facility on her own, her therapist offered to go with her. Fisher recalls entering the Dream Center and knowing that she was surrounded by people who didn’t know who she was but cared for her anyway. Soon, she was able to move into a low-barrier shelter before finally receiving a voucher for her first apartment months later.

“The hardest part was getting out of survival mode,” said Fisher. “It took time to cope with what I had gone through and then recognize that I could finally look past the next day. Once I had more control, I could set goals for my future.” 

Fisher has come full circle. She is now an employee of the Dream Center and is highly motivated to apply the same level of support for other youth as she received when she was younger. Part of her daily tasks focus on helping youth set their future educational goals. Fisher also co-hosts a podcast with Brian Johnson, another peer support specialist with a heart for giving back to the community. Together, Fisher and Johnson have welcomed many guests to their show, “Youth Voice Amplified,” to speak about their experiences navigating homelessness. 

It feels very special to able to give youth information and resources that I once had to hear too. We don’t all look the same. We all have unique stories, and doing this podcast has reassured me of those facts. I want people to know that anyone interacting with adults or youth experiencing homelessness should just have compassion. Most are fearful and live with anxiety every day.

For her work at the Dream Center, on the podcast, and as the Chair of the Youth Action Board, she feels a great sense of gratification to know she is an advocate for those who may not be ready to advocate for themselves. 

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for youth homelessness, several ways exist to become more informed and involved. Read on for more information and upcoming events as we celebrate National Homeless Youth Awareness Month this November.

Listen to youth with lived experiences 

The “Youth Voice Amplified Podcast,” hosted by Peer Support Specialists Brian Johnson and Gennessa Fisher, will release a November special episode on November 1.  

In honor of Homeless Youth Awareness Month, the podcast will feature two remarkable guests from the Kern High School District: Michelle Blalock, the Homeless Education Liaison, and Gabby Britt, a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker. They will shed light on their crucial work at school sites where they are on the front lines addressing the pressing needs and challenges faced by homeless students, a group often overlooked and underserved. 

The episode will offer a behind-the-scenes look into a typical day, emphasizing the importance of their work for the well-being and future success of these students in California’s largest high school district, making it a must-listen for anyone interested in youth advocacy and education.

Wear purple to raise awareness

Wearing purple during the month of November is an easy way to bring awareness to youth homelessness. The struggles that young adults experience when homeless often go unnoticed. It is critical to help raise the general public’s consciousness of this group’s challenges, as it will allow us to be better advocates for equal treatment for all, regardless of race, identity, or housing status. You can wear purple all month but we encourage everyone to don the color purple on November 6. 

Showing their colors

KCSOS staff members don their purple

Donate essentials

From November 1 – 22, you can drop off clothing and essential items at several locations in Kern County (see the full list on the flyer HERE). Based on youth feedback from previous years, items such as new or like-new name brand adult shoes and jackets, new hairbrushes and combs, full-sized shampoo and conditioner, body wash, wet wipes, deodorant, and teen-friendly menstrual products are all considered wish list items.

By Jennifer Bryan

By Jennifer Bryan

Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.