As the summer heat rages, it’s hard to believe kids will be heading back to school soon! What exactly will school openings look like this year, and how will Youth On Their Own adapt to serve youth experiencing homelessness?

For YOTO, this year brings with it new challenges, but also new opportunities as we adapt our programs and services to support students! For instance, with online learning taking on increased importance, YOTO has been and will continue to help students overcome technology barriers. Many lack access to laptops and reliable internet. Therefore, we are working hard to try to make sure every YOTO student who needs a computer this year will have access to one, and that every student who needs help paying an internet bill can ask for that help.

Similarly, with schools likely either not being open for in-person learning or not accepting outside visitors on their campuses, meeting with students in person isn’t really a reliable option. Luckily, YOTO is also introducing a new online student portal! Among other things, the student portal will: allow students to sign up for YOTO services online; provide regular service updates to students; offer students 24-hour access to essential community resources; and provide a direct chat line through which they can get prompt answers to their questions.

Some of the changes COVID has necessitated have actually been opportunities for YOTO to improve its program! For example, with the new student portal, we’ve been able to make our monthly stipend requests paperless. While we’re excited to be able to communicate with students more efficiently, we’re also using this opportunity to help us identify youth in crisis. We’ve added a new question asking the students about their month-by-month housing situation to gauge their stability. Depending on student responses, YOTO’s Program Coordinators (PCs) can work with students who may need additional support or resources. This is particularly helpful, as even though the state’s moratorium on evictions has been extended until October 31, many YOTO youth still struggle to keep up with their rent and utilities.

In fact, since the effects of COVID-19 began to really be felt in Pima County in March, YOTO has seen a 50% increase in student requests for urgent assistance (such as rent, transportation, or health expenses) compared to pre-COVID requests! Thankfully, because of the generosity of our incredible YOTO Family, YOTO has been able to provide assistance to these youth who have reached out for support!

Similarly, in May and June while our Mini Mall was open, we saw 41% increase in requests for basic needs support (food and hygiene) compared to pre-COVID periods. Now, after being closed throughout the month of July, we are excited to announce that YOTO’s Mini Mall will be re-opening – for students only – two days each week! With the curbside pickup/drive-through system we have implemented, students can order the items they need on the online student portal or in person via intercom, limiting physical contact between staff and students and helping safeguard their health.

Despite the many new challenges arising for all students this year, YOTO is working hard to ensure our youth feel supported and safe as they head back to school. If you’d like to get involved and help us make sure ALL YOTO students have everything they need to thrive this school year, check out the resources below!

  • Want to send words of encouragement to YOTO students? Contact our Volunteer Manager, Kristin Ohman, at [email protected] for information on our Take Note! Inspirational Stipend Note Writing Project! You can do it from home!
  • YOTO’s Emergency Fund will continue to offer essential assistance to YOTO youth during COVID-19 and throughout the school year! Make a donation today and you’ll be helping YOTO students overcome barriers, meet their needs, and focus their attention back on their education!
  • On Mondays, we’ll now be accepting donations by appointment. Please click here for more information about donation protocols. 
Who are YOTO’s Program Coordinators and how do they help YOTO youth?
Tucson Subaru announces YOTO as the 2020 “Shares the Love” local partner!