Shamya Ruff is never going to lie to you. The 26-year-old Germantown resident is open and candid about her experience with homelessness – and is sincere about her passion to change circumstances for young people with that same experience.
She’s part of the Young Adult Leadership Committee (YALC), a 42-member cohort of young adults helping to improve Philadelphia’s homeless system for youth. She is also part of the subcommittee guiding the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (YHDP) in Philadelphia. YHDP is an $8,8 million-dollar federal grant program through HUD awarded to the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) to develop a youth-led plan to make youth homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. The funds will be invested in innovative housing programs to help young adults ages 18-24 end their homelessness.
“This is important to me because I’ve been there. And I’ve seen the way people manipulate one another – especially when they’re in a vulnerable state,” said Shamya. “You can trust me. You can trust my word.”
Shamya, along with the other young adult leaders, have been entrusted with developing the community coordinated plan recently approved by HUD Let’s Get REAYL. They are also reviewing the proposals for new, innovative programs to receive funding through the grant. The YALC is uniquely qualified for the effort, with a two-thirds majority of members having lived experience.
“I have had a lot of experience. Some of my experiences have been good, some have been bad, but I’ve learned through them,” said Shamya. “I’ve learned not to judge someone by their actions, and instead try to understand them as a person.”
The YALC is committed to increasing the number of young adults stably and safely housed in affirming environments, elevating the voices of youth with lived experience in policy making, advocating for more resources, and making the homeless services system more responsive to the unique needs of young adults. The committee is also charged with working with community groups to increase public awareness around youth homelessness, as well as recruit new young adult members and allies who want to achieve this mission.
For Shamya, her service is a source of pride. She credits her family, friends, and experience with street homelessness for her drive to end youth homelessness. And she sees herself as a survivor with a lot to give.
“To go from where I was to now working with the City and having people behind me, I feel important. I’m changing lives – including my own,” said Shamya. “My advice to anyone who gets an opportunity like this is to take it. I’m just so grateful.”