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December 11, 2020

Fiercely Focused: Austin Youth Collective (AYC)

AUSTIN, Texas (Dec. 11, 2020) — The Austin Youth Collective (AYC), a group of young adults with lives expertise of homelessness, brings a unique and necessary voice to our community’s homeless response system.

Formed in 2018 as part of the HUD-funded Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, the ever-changing group provides input, feedback, and perspective to groups like ECHO and LifeWorks to inform and guide programs that serve people experiencing homelessness.

“No one knows what somebody needs on the streets better than somebody who’s been on the streets,” Mesha Fox, a current AYC member, said.

During Homeless Youth Awareness Month in November 2020, the current members worked closely with ECHO to plan, produce, shoot, write, and edit the video below to tell their story the way they want to tell it. Watch to learn how they’re Fiercely Focused on ending homelessness.

Lived expertise is key to the AYC’s mission and identity, and it’s a voice members feel is missing from too many spaces within the homeless response system. As a result, programs and services can overlook or ignore the true need and impact for people using those services.

“It’s frustrating to go into a room full of people who are college-educated and be like, ‘This is so obvious to me, but you never had to eat out of a dumpster, so, you know,'” said AYC member Summer Wright.

To learn more about authentically engaging people with lived expertise of homelessness, visit

ECHO’s Philosophy of Service notes that centering individuals with lived experience as experts in their own circumstances is critical to ECHO’s goal of creating a more informed system that works better for the people who use it. “In terms of being sure that we are not just meeting our goals, but also meeting the goals in the ways that we want to for our neighbors,” said Preston Petty, ECHO’s Coordinated Entry Program Director, “AYC has been irreplaceable.”

“A lot of people are hurting in this world right now,” said AYC member Darnell Wyatt. “And it just means a lot that I’m able to be able to share my ideas with the AYC to be able to improve the systems in this world.”

As our system and others around the country focus more on bringing people with lived expertise to the table, Austin Youth Collective members are hopeful organizations do it authentically rather than just checking a box.

“When we talk about authentic engagement, it means really and truly honoring and holding space and treating each voice at the table with the same level of respect that’s given to every voice at the table,” said Rhie Azzam Morris, AYC’s coordinator. “And if you’re not doing that, you’re doing something wrong.”

AYC members also want to see more opportunities for people with lived expertise as permanent employees, not just serving a consultant role.

“We’re tired of sitting in spaces that are not available for us yet and are not ready for our opinion yet,” said AYC member Lyric Wardlow. “Where are the individuals experiencing homelessness currently, and why aren’t they already with you?”

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