CHANDLER — On Tuesday, in front of the Chandler City Council, teens Emily Ellis, Alina Acevedo and their team from the Scottsdale YMCA could feel the pressure.
"Honestly when we first went up there it was a little scary but once you kind of get into the groove of it [I] was like OK I got this," said 14-year-old Acevedo.
For the past six weeks, they'd been preparing to participate in the YMCA's Model City summer project, a program designed to give Arizona youth a taste of the process of local government.
"We want them to take away that democracy has to be learned by every generation and want them to take away that one, their voice is needed in the civic process, their voice is wanted, and they can have a voice to bring about real change," said Patrick Cody.
Cody is director of teen programs in Scottsdale. He says teams from five different East Valley YMCAs were tasked with coming up with a solution focused on homelessness in the city of Chandler.
"So, we take a project like homelessness, and we work together as a group to try and figure out solutions and do research to come up with a proposal for how to fix it," said 15-year-old Ellis.
A tall task, but they set out to do their research. Teens dove into the data to find out the most common reasons people find themselves homeless.
They discovered substance abuse, low employment and mental illness to be the driving factors. Eventually deciding on a multi-prong approach to adding more housing and eventually getting individuals off the streets permanently.
"So, we came up with the idea, it wouldn't be too costly to just upgrade existing shelters but also buy old and used motels that no one uses anymore and convert those into more housing," said Ellis. "We wouldn't have to build anything new, and it would reduce the costs."
They even provided an estimated budget, with infrastructure of housing assistance as the first prong, the others addressed specific drivers of homelessness. With the housing plan, residents would be required to abstain from substance abuse. Treatment for substance abuse and mental health would be offered on site along with job training.
"We're gonna help you and give you a place to live but you can't stay here forever, this is a starting place, and we want to help you move forward," said Acevedo. "We want to give them the best chance at a future."
Another YMCA group pitched an idea to set up a school that would help educate and train those who are homeless in different trades, eventually leading to job opportunities.
While one one team was named the winner, all left with a newfound motivation to make a difference.
"There's people out there who need help and we're able to do it if we can come together and find the common theme in our differences," said Ellis.
The Chandler City Council plans to work with the teams to refine their ideas and potentially implementing one down the road.