Youth advocate EJ Velez selflessly shares his own personal experience with homelessness and the challenges he faced navigating systems in an effort to educate the public and ensure youth receive proper support and care they need to succeed. As a college senior, EJ balances school work with his activism. He serves on the National Runaway Safeline’s Youth Advisory Board, as a Youth Catalyst Team Consultant for Youth Collaboratory and is a Youth Consultant to National Network for Youth (NN4Y).
“I’m everywhere and anywhere,” explains EJ. “We need to share our knowledge, voice our opinions and stay connected to communities to achieve change.”
As somebody who is both blind and transgender, EJ knows how the intersectionality of disability and identity can impact a youth struggling with homelessness. When his family abandoned him at age 17, EJ lived on the streets and endured many struggles.
As a child, he recognized the value of listening closely and learning; these skills paid off when EJ needed to understand his rights as a disabled youth experiencing homelessness. He learned about the child welfare system, healthcare system and others, pursuing the benefits he was entitled to.
“I’ve been fighting the systems for the past four years, and often I’m forced to take ridiculous and time consuming steps to get what I need and deserve,” says EJ. “Hopefully by sharing my experiences, I can help others and bring about policy changes.”
As a member of the NRS Youth Advisory Board, EJ has participated in a virtual panel discussion sharing his perspective on the intersectionality of LGBTQIA2S+ identity and youth homelessness based on his own unique experiences. Additionally, he joined a roundtable event with White House representatives, sharing his feedback on the innovations and creative solutions proposed in an Executive Order aimed at advancing LGBTQI+ equality as well as recommendations on how to drive changes for young people utilizing and in need of government supported services and systems.
EJ is fueling his passion for advocacy and awareness as a National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) Youth Ambassador. Leading up to November, he recruited friends to support NRPM and has been staffing informational tables at several events and posting on social media.
NRS appreciates EJ’s dedication to supporting vulnerable youth and to driving change through hard work and perseverance. To hear from EJ directly, tune in to a recent episode of the Let’s Talk podcast featuring EJ and his fellow Youth Advisory Board member, Rachel Litchman. Access the episode