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StreetBeats: Engaging Traumatized Youth Through Music

Covenant House Pennsylvania

StreetBeats: Engaging Traumatized Youth Through Music Logo

Program Website
Winner Status:
Program Type:
Target Population:
Individuals experiencing Housing Insecurity

Nature of the Problem

Psychiatric disorders have been reported to exist in 66% to 89% of the homeless youth population. However, homeless youth can sometimes be reluctant to speak to behavioral health staff about their problems, seeing staff as part of a system they no longer trust. They are also adolescents and can be self-conscious about expressing any mental health problems. We noticed that many youth loved music and would freely express themselves through song – often rap. We developed StreetBeats as a key to help youth access their feelings and increase their confidence and self-esteem through writing and creating their own songs. Through StreetBeats, youth could find a creative outlet for the trauma of their childhoods and their current homelessness and Covenant House could have a way of getting to better understand the challenges our youth were facing. Then, being more confident expressing themselves, youth could be better prepared to visit our behavioral health services, if needed.

Program Description

First, to meet urgent health needs, on arrival Street Beats staff assessed homeless young people and directed them to onsite health services. This helped stabilize these young people, who often come to us straight from the streets. Once stabilized, we began working with the young person to develop self-esteem and confidence through StreetBeats. StreetBeats staff managed and ran a series of workshops with a music producer. This encouraged the young person to express their feelings and speak up. The music is then produced to a professional standard and displayed on the Covenant House website. We also promote youth songs at our annual gala event. Throughout the project a dialogue is maintained between the music producer and key program staff to ensure youth are not over-exposed and that they experience a healthy transition toward a more confident, open approach to their problems. Through a questionnaire, youth tell us if the StreetBeats experience made them felt more confident in themselves in general.


The truly innovative thing about StreetBeats is that it recognizes the particular problems trauma-afflicted teenagers have of expressing themselves and tailors the solution to their favored mode of communication. StreetBeats also helps youth make a smoother transition to behavioral health services, helping them open up to being helped. The program gives them confidence through singing the words they wrote themselves in public, and having those words professionally produced.


The design of our program can assist those working with this specific demographic group to find fresh ways of reaching out to them. It can open doors to the inner youth. By ensuring that StreetBeats is embedded in our program model – as a step between youths’ initial non-communication at our shelter to engagement with the array of shelter services – we help those in the behavioral health community find the key to helping youth struggling with homelessness, childhood trauma, and the fears of encroaching adulthood. There are arts therapy projects, but StreetBeats, with its emphasis on individual composition professionally produced within a group of peers, provides vulnerable youth with a true chance to find their own voice.


We now have the expertise and experience ready to see StreetBeats grow to help youth in other sectors. StreetBeats can be expanded and reproduced inside and outside of Covenant House PA for those organizations looking for new methods to communication with those who have suffered trauma. The program could be ‘portable’ and tried out by other organizations over a brief period before they decide to permanently embed the program within their service framework. We would aim to produce a toolkit outlining the knowledge we have gained to practically assist other organizations. StreetBeats was funded by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.


In 2017, 42 youth connected with the StreetBeats program. Street Beats has given our youth a chance to share their stories. Through their music, you get a sense of where they have been, what they have seen. Not every youth is comfortable sitting down and just telling you their story. But through song, lyrics, and poems they get their story out. For the youth involved, sharing their story can be the first step towards healing. Street Beats was featured part of this year’s A Night of Broadway Stars Gala. The Program lead and two youth attended. Guests listened to samples of the music the youth created throughout the year. Guests were also able to create their own songs with the help of our producer laying down beat tracks for them.