Sahra Nawabi (Youth Lead, Alameda County’s Youth Advisory Board) & Hannah Moore (Youth
Services Program Manager, Alameda County Office of Homelessness Coordination
Sahra (pronounced SAH- RO) Nawabi is Alameda County’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) youth lead. The YAB is a body of youth who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness. The group advises on policy, programs and funding in Alameda County’s homeless response system.
Hannah Moore is the youth services program manager in the Office of Homeless Care and Coordination (OHCC), where the YAB is situated. The YAB advises on solutions to homelessness among youth in the county. Sahra and Hannah have been partnering for the last several years with a special focus on the importance of youth and adult ally partnership.
Hannah: I remember the first time I met you—it was at the YAB workshop on creative visioning that I hosted outside on the grass at Jack London Square in front of the Ferry boat launch. It was December 2020, cold outside, and we were not even a year into the pandemic. We circled up on the grass and I led the YAB through a creative exercise drawing newspaper covers [from] 10 years from now, talking about all that the YAB had accomplished! And you arrived and introduced yourself, you remember that?
Sahra: I recall that memory like it was yesterday, and not surprisingly I was the first one to show up, which allowed me to have some time to converse with you, telling you how I began my journey as a freshman at Chabot College. Coming out to Jack London Square was definitely out of my comfort zone, especially during the peak of the pandemic, but you made me feel at ease with open arms and excitement.
Not once did I ever feel like I needed to explain my story to be an eligible member or a part of this board; I felt honored. I heard and saw young people who had similar experiences and wanted to make impactful changes through the creative writing session that you coordinated. It was the first time I ever truly felt the meaning of community. I knew this was going to be an authentic partnership once you told us over and over, “The YAB is what you want it to be,” always with a bright smile on your face.
That gave me a sense of drive and determination in that space.. to realize that you were giving us the tools we needed to be successful. Now all we had to do was turn the vision into reality.
Hannah: Yes, you were the first one there! I remember you sitting on the cement bench on the side of the grass telling me about being a student at Chabot. And now you’re a College of Chabot graduate as of May, whoop whoop!
Haha, I always did say “The YAB is what you want it to be,” if nothing else. One thing I always knew is I have no idea what I’m doing—like, I have some ideas but I wanted y’all to know you’re creating this. I am here to listen, grow and push on the doors I need to push on. Thinking back to when we had to start phase one of the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) grant, and holding all those community conversations, and writing our Coordinated Community Plan, I asked the YAB peer mentors who wanted to lead that with me—and you instantly said “ME!” And right away you started planning out the community conversations! I really felt supported and that I could lean on you.
Sahra: That moment perfectly describes my eagerness, but that instant yes was because I knew that you needed me most. The requirements for the YHDP that our technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) kept saying is that young people need to be in the center of discussion-making, planning and process for this work to be innovative and successful. And me stepping up influenced other YAB members to join the ride, and they did, we were so strong as a team and you guided us through your youth development background lens like glue to a paper. I felt confident because you always advocated for the YAB when it came to compensation, space and obtaining resources to drive the work forward. It was heavy on my mind when I said yes because I felt the pressure, but it did not back me down because you would verbally reassure us that you were also riding along the journey. Do you remember me always telling you, “I am not going nowhere”? I meant that.
Hannah: Yes! You have continued to say, “I’m not going nowhere.” You are loyal to the soil and in it to win it for real for real. I’m glad to hear that I did all right as a liaison between the youth and the adults—that’s important to me.
The way I understand our partnership or collaboration is really in essence a desire that we each have to want to learn, grow and transform ourselves and the work we are here to do. So the fact that you are a young adult and I am a little bit of an older adult (lol) and that we are collaborating doesn’t interfere with the bigger picture of what we are both committed to doing. That’s also very specific to our partnership. Trainings on adultism, I think, are super important for this work, and this has pushed me in many ways to slow down and do things differently, but coming from a youth development background and just having a strong belief that youth know what they need I think it sets up what we are doing in a different way. What do you think?
Sahra: I agree with how you explained our drive for learning and wanting to not only transform the work but essentially elevate ourselves because the system is not designed for all bodies. The YAB being situated in the county has provided me with the necessary training and holistic teachings that are so valuable as I transitioned from my youth years to a young adult.
I do believe that having a positive youth development background is key in any working relationship, whether it is personal or professional, because trust opens doors and sheds light on human experiences that can be used to improve our society as a whole. I remember when I gave adultism training to providers and was told by one participant that they never heard the word or concept before. It blew my mind because this means there has been unintentional discrimination that adults tend to hold over young people, as if we don’t have autonomy or the same rights as adults do.
This work that you are holding, Hannah, is huge to ensuring youth voices are mobilized in the programs, projects, metrics, etc. that we come across. I have seen you beautifully represent that numerous times through our Ending Youth Homelessness Collaborative.
Hannah: I think that desire to grow, transform and elevate ourselves is part of this understanding that we don’t know it all but need each other. I know that having you step up and into the youth lead role on the YAB has literally saved me time and time again. Can you talk about what moving through your different roles on the YAB have been like for you and some of all the amazing work you are leading!?
Sahra: Yes, like how we needed each other. I first started as a YAB member and I have to admit I was pretty shy, but my ears were open because I wanted to learn to support my housing insecurity while making impactful change to my community.
I believe my natural willingness and drive to find solutions to my housing showed up a lot within the YAB work. It was like transforming my trauma into the legacy of my work. The peer mentors and you saw the growth and leadership in me, and promoted me to peer mentor in 2021. I just was on fire even more because once I led the YHDP work, I was not going to let this opportunity fall through the cracks at all.
My role now consists of being a liaison between the OHCC and the YAB to ensure all cross-communication is relayed to the YAB, and vice versa. At the YAB, I co-lead a subcommittee on communications where we focus on external and internal information about youth homelessness and how we can uplift it to our website, partners and social media.
That connection with YAAH wouldn’t have been made if you hadn’t sent me their email request for young people with lived expertise to review their COVID-19 impact survey for youth experiencing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, I continued and continued coming back to YAAH, which cultivated my passion for qualitative research. I acknowledge the privilege and academic opportunity I have to understand the diverse experiences of young people with YAAH that I treasure very deeply. It’s like a compliment to my role as a youth lead because I can learn what is effective and ineffective from the research we conduct and my role as a liaison.
Hannah: The last thing I would say is just how much I appreciate you, all that I have learned from you and I’m excited for what is to come as we continue to collaborate, work, build and heal together! Sahra: Hannah, I appreciate the kind words and you as a human being. I could say confidently you put me in a lot of spaces that have healed and elevated me as a person. I am hopeful and confident that there are similar stories like ours whose hearts are in it with intention. This is a collaborative effort, where siloing needs to be addressed and improved.