After experiencing childhood homelessness for years, first with her mother and her younger siblings, and later by herself, Nariya Gregory came to the realization that there could be a better life.
“I had to think to myself that I deserved more than what I was given,” Gregory told the Las Vegas Review-Journal at Wednesday’s Nevada Youth Homelessness Summit. “I thought to myself, ‘You deserve better, even if no one believes in you; always believe in yourself.’ ”
The seventh-annual conference was held at a packed Smith Center for the Performing Arts and was hosted by the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth and Las Vegas Sands.
The homeless youth partnership helped take Gregory off the streets three years ago. The 19-year-old graduated high school last year and recently graduated from the partnership’s independent living program.
“My life’s changed,” she said. “I got a car, I got a job and my own apartment.”
The summit featured presentations and panel discussions outlining the current state of youth homelessness and the systems in place to prevent it. Organizers and advocates then take the lessons learned to tailor them into an action plan.
This year, for the first time, the summit expanded its mission statewide, welcoming speakers from Northern Nevada, rural Nevada and tribal communities.
The goal is to establish the “first standalone plan to end youth homelessness,” according to NPHY.
During a daylong “homeless census” conducted this year in Southern Nevada, 12 percent of the 6,566 locals tallied were in families with children. About 5 percent, or 331 people counted, were unaccompanied youth.
“I don’t see the problem getting any better in the next year,” NPHY CEO Arash Ghafoori told the Review-Journal on Tuesday. He cited the long-term impacts of the pandemic, an eviction crisis and a shortage of affordable housing.
The crises have been difficult for all demographics, but particularly for minors and young adults, he said.
That’s because the reasons they end up homeless are “very different” than for the rest of the population, Ghafoori added, noting that services to get them help must also differ.
NPHY’s action plan has led to successes.
That includes the passage of Assembly Bill 363 during the 2019 Legislature, which waived fees to obtain original or duplicate IDs and driver licenses for homeless youth under the age of 25. The law also provided birth certificates at no cost for that population to be able to enroll in school or get a job.
During the 2021 legislative session, NPHY advocated for the passage of AB197, which allows unaccompanied minors to consent to certain health services for themselves or their children.
“It’s very difficult because you’re by yourself, you don’t know where you’re going to go, what you’re going to eat the next day,” Gregory said of experiencing homelessness. “It’s kind of hard because you’re trying to figure it out, and it feels like you have no one there.”
She added: “People would not listen to my story, and they really wouldn’t care about what I went through.”
At Wednesday’s summit, she held an attentive audience of a couple hundred.
She said she plans to continue sharing her story and volunteer to help others with similar stories.
“It might sound crazy,” she said, but she’s giving herself 10 years to open a center for homeless children, where they can be educated and express themselves creatively.