Launch Pad is looking to the future. As part of its mission to provide safe sleep shelters for youth experiencing homelessness, the nonprofit recently recruited a new executive director, long-time volunteer Ty Brown.
Brown is not new to working on youth homelessness. He began volunteering with Launch Pad in 2016, eventually rising to the role of Site Director, overseeing overnight volunteers. He most recently worked at the Oasis Center, a nonprofit that offers a variety of services for youth, including outreach to those experiencing homelessness.
“Any time you can get a job doing the thing you were already volunteering to do, you know you’re doing something right,” Brown says. “You’ll be having a fulfilling job experience.”
As the Launch Pad team gears up to start its season on Nov. 1, Brown faces a fresh set of challenges.
Last year, Launch Pad hosted youth five nights a week, with other organizations unofficially picking up the remaining two days. With the outside organizations out of the picture this year, Launch Pad will expand to six days a week, with the goal of making it seven if they can find the money and space.
For now, Launch Pad’s season runs until March 31, just to cover the cold weather months, but another goal is to be able to offer shelter year round.
“Just because the weather is not cold, doesn’t mean there aren’t other challenges,” Brown says. “In fact, I would guess that more people start moving through Nashville when it’s warmer. People still need showers. They don’t want to sleep on the streets, it’s not safe. The can have a good dinner and a good breakfast with us.”
The biggest goal Brown mentioned is for Launch Pad to have its own site in the future, which could offer services 24/7.
Launch Pad follows a similar season and model as Room In The Inn, but there are a few key differences. Launch Pad hosts only youth — up to 20 people age 18 to 24 per night — with each night located at a different church accessible by metro transit. They also have just one sleeping area per site, meaning couples can stay together and guests who identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender fluid don’t have to pick a side or risk being misgendered. This model ensures a LGBTQ-affirming space, and keeping the group small enables them to keep it “friendly and non-authoritarian,” Brown says. Youth in need of shelter register online at the Launch Pad website for a bed that night.
“We’re going to pay attention to using the correct pronouns,” Brown says. “We’re going to pay attention to keeping the atmosphere safe ... An emergency shelter is nobody’s idea of good housing. We’re just a last resort and we try to make that last resort as pleasant and as positive and affirming as we can.”
According to data compiled in Nashville’s Coordinated Community Plan to prevent and end youth homelessness, there are an estimated 1,094 people age 18 to 24 experiencing homelessness in Nashville annually. The data also shows that in Nashville,15 to 30 percent of those youth identify as LGBTQ.
It saddens Brown that people are no longer able to stay with Launch Pad after 24, but having a limit on age ensures the nonprofit is serving the population they seek to serve. People age 18 to 24 face unique challenges to getting into housing compared to their older counterparts.
“People will stay with us for a long time, even if they’re working, and even if they’ve started the process of finding housing,” Brown says.
Brown says people who stay at Launch Pad have trouble saving up enough money to cover both a security deposit and first month’s rent. On top of that, they’re vulnerable to be stopped by a credit check or don’t make enough income to cover double the rent, as some landlords want. Landlords in Nashville will be reluctant to rent to a young person with no credit history and, because of the market, can afford to be very picky, he says.
Getting to know the guests at Launch Pad has affected Brown, and he encourages people to volunteer regularly so they can build relationships with and learn from some of Nashville’s most vulnerable youth.
“The biggest misconception is that there must be a flaw in your character, and that’s why you’re homeless,” Brown says. “We hear the stories of the youth that come to stay with us, and there’s almost always a lot of trauma involved. And none of them are there just because they didn’t feel like getting a job. They have a job and just don’t have a place to stay. They are fleeing abuse. They have mental health issues.”
Brown added, “When you hear people’s stories, you start to realize that, if I’d experienced the same thing they did I don’t think I’d be doing as well as they are.”
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