Pam Barker of Yfoundations: “Look after yourself first”

The issue is that there is not enough affordable housing for all human beings on this planet. This leaves those most vulnerable competing for properties and waiting on lengthy waiting lists to get access to housing. Other issues are being able to fund housing close to education, employment and transport facilities, things that support a […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

The issue is that there is not enough affordable housing for all human beings on this planet. This leaves those most vulnerable competing for properties and waiting on lengthy waiting lists to get access to housing. Other issues are being able to fund housing close to education, employment and transport facilities, things that support a person to live day to day.

This is your problem and it is mine. In the case of young people who are experiencing homelessness, these young people once went to school with your children, might have lived in your neighborhood, or sat next to you on the train. We’re talking about children as young as twelve, who through no fault of their own, have slipped through the cracks. Youth homelessness is rarely the fault of the victim — rather their plight is commonly collateral damage of domestic violence, mental health, family breakdowns, and financial hardship brought on from wider societal issues. Youth homelessness takes on many forms but, in many cases, they are a hidden statistic.


As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Pam Barker, CEO of Yfoundations, one of the peak bodies for Youth Homelessness, and brings extensive experience across the not-for-profit sector. She sits on the board of NYCH: National Youth Coalition for Housing, My Foundations Youth Housing, WayAhead Mental Health Association, and Australian Youth Affairs Coalition: AYAC. Her experience includes youth services, homelessness prevention, mental health programs, and policy reform.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in Brisbane, Queensland in Australia. I had a lot of challenges growing up and I had to face a lot of things a young person shouldn’t have to face. At the age of 14 I experienced homelessness. I continued to work hard and I completed my higher school certificate. I managed to overcome a lot of stigma and discrimination due to the challenges of being a young person who couch-surfed their way through high school. Couch surfing is when a person has no permanent place to call home so move from couch to couch to avoid sleeping on the streets.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

I have always been passionate about empowering young people to be all they can be. My lived experience of homelessness and being a young person who was in the child protection system has motivated me to continue to advocate and work hard to improve the lives of young people.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

Youth Homelessness stems from a lack of systems that are designed to support our most vulnerable young people. Those who come in contact with the child protection system, who identify as LGBTIQ, have lived in volatile homes, and those escaping domestic and family violence often end up homeless. The lack of access to support, financial means and affordable accommodation makes escaping homelessness almost impossible — especially as a young person.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Homelessness can affect anyone. Those who have experienced homelessness are people just like you and I who have contributed to society in a meaningful way. A series of events occur that then leave a person without a home. Young people affected by homelessness usually experience this due to no fault of their own. Often, they are in the child protection system and too young to work, access financial support or sign a lease agreement.

Consider this: how could a young person hope to get a job if they don’t have a fixed address? How could they possibly secure enough money to get a private rental, especially with little or no references or employment history? How could they get a driver’s license without a family to help them learn, or the money to pay for lessons? How can they complete schooling without access to funds for basic supplies or if their time needs to be spent finding ways to get help or money?

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

The issue is that there is not enough affordable housing for all human beings on this planet. This leaves those most vulnerable competing for properties and waiting on lengthy waiting lists to get access to housing. Other issues are being able to fund housing close to education, employment and transport facilities, things that support a person to live day to day.

This is your problem and it is mine. In the case of young people who are experiencing homelessness, these young people once went to school with your children, might have lived in your neighborhood, or sat next to you on the train. We’re talking about children as young as twelve, who through no fault of their own, have slipped through the cracks. Youth homelessness is rarely the fault of the victim — rather their plight is commonly collateral damage of domestic violence, mental health, family breakdowns, and financial hardship brought on from wider societal issues. Youth homelessness takes on many forms but, in many cases, they are a hidden statistic.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

I would listen to them if they asked for help and be open to assisting in finding help. You can be open to carrying some change in your wallet or if they are hungry be willing to purchase them a meal if safe to do so.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

I would if I had any spare change but if you can’t afford to give or feel uncomfortable then please don’t. You could offer help in other ways. Contact a local service and let them know where the person is who was asking for help. A lot of street teams will get to know who is sleeping rough and will be able to go out and locate the person and provide outreach assistance.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Yfoundations advocates for and educates people about youth homelessness. We influence government, media and the general public to gain a deeper understanding of the issues young people face and how we can provide pathways out of homelessness for our young people. We lobby for innovative and affective housing models to be implemented, providing affordable and supported housing for young people. We lobby for funding and resources for an already under funded and under resourced youth homelessness sector.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

COVID-19 has increased the need of a community response to homelessness. How do you self-isolate when you don’t have a home? How do you look after yourself and access medicine if you are homeless and contract COVID-19? How can you ‘social distance’ yourself in a shelter? These are real issues. We know those who are homeless are highly vulnerable when it comes to diseases. We also know that donations reduce in times of fear and economic hardship. And we also know that homelessness has increased due to the impact of the pandemic.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

Yfoundations has a Youth Advisory Council that supports us in our work to gain a deep understanding of the lived experience of young people who have experienced homelessness. At the beginning of COVID-19 a lot of young people lost their jobs. Yfoundations were able to use our contacts to support some young people in navigating the government support system to keep them housed and accessing financial support (Stay Afloat). Even though we are the peak body for youth homelessness and don’t provide direct service provision to young people, we were able to provide guidance when it was needed.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I can’t speak to a particular case due to confidentiality. What I can say is we advocate for children and young people who should be in out-of-home care (foster care), due to neglect and abuse. Often the government will wait until these children and young people are older, so the responsibility of care does not have to be taken. This is because there being so many young people needing support. There are not enough government resources to help all young people reported at risk.

These young people fall through the cracks easily and end up in Homelessness Services. Yfoundations is part of a steering group made up of government representatives, child protection and homelessness services working to prevent these young people falling through the cracks. We advocate for both policy and processes to be changed so young people in need of care and protection are given the support they deserve by the government. This is a way Yfoundations directly impacts young people who deserve a safe and stable home to live in.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

  1. Education: It is important people understand the drivers of homelessness and the issues that prevent a person from exiting homelessness. Those who are homeless as young people will most likely experience homelessness as an adult. Read the news, get involved with volunteering or fundraising for a local service.
  2. Speak with your local politicians and councilors to gain an understanding of their policy positions and what they are doing to end youth homelessness. Educating others and creating awareness is important, however youth homelessness is a community issue and we need to hold those in power accountable to advocate for change. For example, advocate for more affordable community housing.
  3. Financial support: In the current pandemic a lot of organisations have seen their fundraising dollars decrease. Organisations rely on this money to help fund programs that are not government funded. I would like to encourage those who can give to give and provide much needed funds to organisations who support and empower youth to break free from a life of homelessness.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

We would introduce a universal basic income that can be accessed by all people and kicks in when things financially get tough in order to keep a person housed.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

Knowing we can truly make a difference if we all invest in changing our minds and hearts. My experiences as a young person drive my desire to advocate for change to see young people achieve their dreams.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Yes, I do, I don’t believe homelessness can be totally avoided, however we can create a safety net that means homelessness is a small event in a person’s life. A person can access support to prevent or change their circumstance quickly and provide them a roof over their head while they work through the other challenges that got them into the position in the first place.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Look after yourself first (put your own face mask on before helping others). In my first CEO role I achieved a lot and continued to make a meaningful difference, however it came at a great personal cost because I forgot to look after myself.
  2. All people are inherently good regardless of where we end up. For example, I was in the supermarket when I witnessed a store manager shaming a person for stealing food in front of onlooking shoppers. This upset me greatly as the person stealing the food wouldn’t do it unless they had to. See the good in others and think about why people may do the things they do, not just their actions.
  3. Perfectionism is a lie and does not reflect who we truly are as humans. So be kind to yourself and others. We strive so hard to get things perfect and forget that failure is a good tool to help us grow.

A few years ago I placed this theory to the test and agreed to be a guest actor in a stage show production, and it was the best thing I ever did. Was I good at it? No. However I learnt a lot about myself and others in the process, and it was a lot of fun.

4. You never know who you will meet or cross paths with. It is important you treat others with kindness and respect. People are not always who and what they seem.

A person may be homeless now, however they once were like you or I, working and with family. Life can change quickly, and things can get out of control. We should treat others with integrity and respect always, regardless of our internal judgment.

5. Boundaries are paramount to success: Having healthy boundaries in your work and personal life is important to success. You can’t be everyone’s friend and sometimes you need to make tough business decisions that others won’t like.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Universal base income. So, all people have the ability to eat, have shelter and connection. Humans need to thrive in order to live.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life lesson quote:

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. Don’t define yourself in terms of what you’ve done before, but in terms of what you’re doing now.” Alan Watts

For me it is important to you love what you do, and that it makes a meaningful difference to others and that my work is aligned to my personal values. If you work in a job that aligns with these things it is play and not a heavy burden to carry. I want to live life and love others in all I do on this planet.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day! I would love to have breakfast with Brené Brown as she has inspired me to be all I can be as a human, fostering compassion and humility in all I do life and work. She is an inspiration to me and my leadership.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Yfoundations on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook

Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/company/yfoundations-inc

Twitter https://twitter.com/ceoyfoundations?lang=en

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Yfoundations/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Help others who need it.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Barbara Duffield

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

“Advocate for others” With Fotis Georgiadis & Larry Seamans

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

Susan McDowell of LifeWorks: “Take time to really see the youth in your life”

by Ben Ari
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.