Larkin Street Youth Services
Larkin Street was founded in 1984 by a group of local business owners, church members, and neighbors who were concerned by the rising number of young people engaging in risky behaviors on the streets of San Francisco. With comprehensive youth service programs located throughout San Francisco, Larkin Street Youth Services is now an internationally recognized model successfully integrating housing, education, employment and health services to get homeless and at-risk kids off the streets.
Larkin Street provides youth between the ages of 12 and 24 with the help they need to rebuild their lives. Each year, more than 3,000 youth walk through their doors seeking help. They give them a place where they can feel safe; rebuild their sense of self-respect, trust, and hope; learn school, life and job skills; and find the confidence to build a future.
Their vision is not to interrupt homelessness for young people, but rather, to end it permanently.
To do this, they provide comprehensive services that meet young peoples’ needs, while encouraging them to access their services when and how they feel comfortable. This helps their young people take charge of their own lives, developing long-lasting self-sufficiency while building trust in themselves and their staff.
Their work is internationally recognized as setting a high standard for innovative and effective care for young people experiencing homelessness. Read on for details on their model.
Many of the young people they encounter have been hurt or abandoned by the important adults in their lives. Their engagement programs are the crucial first step in building trust between young people and their program staff, who are a supportive and visible presence on the streets, and in their shelters and drop-in centers.
Their street outreach team offers food, clothing and hygiene supplies, as well as information connecting youth directly to their programs, including their medical clinic, HIV prevention and testing, emergency shelters, housing programs and counseling.
Drop-in centers, located in the Tenderloin and Haight neighborhoods, provide a safe refuge from the streets, and for some young people, are the only indoor spaces they can access. They make it fun and welcoming with events and activities in addition to hot meals, showers, laundry, computer access, and behavioral health services.
These entry-level services give young people the support they need to formulate a plan to leave street life behind, permanently.
Larkin Street is San Francisco’s largest non-profit provider of housing for young people experiencing homelessness, providing more than 80,000 bed-nights of emergency and supportive housing each year. In addition to their two short-term shelters, Larkin Street offers more than 250 housing beds for up to two years or more.
More than just safe places to sleep, their housing programs offer comprehensive supports to young people, including individual/group counseling, life skills trainings, and more. Some provide 24-hour onsite staffing, while other programs give young people the chance to live more independently in their communities.
Several housing programs are tailored to meet the unique needs of over-represented groups among those experiencing homelessness, including young people who identify as LGBTQ+, those who have experience with the foster care system, those at risk of or living with HIV, and those dealing with mental health issues.
All housing programs provide a stable and supportive platform, enabling young people to take meaningful steps toward independence.
Young people who are experiencing homelessness spend time and energy every day wondering where they are going to sleep that night. This reality, combined with the stress and trauma of life on the streets, means that they are more likely than their peers to stop attending school, which is directly linked to lower lifelong earning potential. They offer several levels of programming tailored to address this educational achievement gap, from GED tutoring to college success programs and everything in between.
To prepare young people for careers in key Bay Area sectors like technology and healthcare, their employment programs also fall on a spectrum, from introductory day-labor opportunities and basic job readiness classes to intensive, semester-long Learning Centers.
Young people have access to trained staff in group and individual settings to explore career pathways, pursue internship opportunities, untangle financial aid requirements, and get job placement support.
The combined aim of their education and employment services is to prepare young people for meaningful, sustainable, living-wage employment that makes lasting self-sufficiency possible.
Medical and behavioral health supports are critical components in Larkin Street’s continuum of services. Their medical clinic provides free primary care and HIV-prevention, including confidential testing.
Their trained case managers use evidence-based techniques like motivational interviewing to help young people develop a plan for their future that includes the coping strategies needed to tackle life’s daily stresses. Larkin Street also incorporates mindfulness training alongside classes on nutrition, cooking and yoga.
They take a holistic approach to caring for their young people, providing them with the tools to care for themselves.
They also work to reshape external environments affecting homelessness through coordinated policy and advocacy efforts at the local, state and national levels.
Most recently, Larkin Street played a key role in the development of San Francisco’s new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Additionally, in partnership with the California Coalition for Youth, Larkin Street successfully advocated for the first expansion of Homeless Youth and Exploitation funding since the legislation was passed in the ’80s. On the national level, their Executive Director, Sherilyn Adams, joined the steering committee for A Way Home America, a White House initiative launched to build the movement to end homelessness among young people.See more