April 2021: Letter from the Executive Director

The last 12 months have been extremely challenging. So many individuals have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. At the center of A Way Home Washington’s work – preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness – we have seen increased barriers for young people navigating an already complex system.

In our four Anchor Communities – Spokane, Yakima, Walla Walla and Pierce counties – we see the impact of COVID on young people, socially, mentally, economically and physically. Distancing from loved ones, not being able to attend class in-person, 6-foot restrictions at shelters and many other emerging policies have had a direct impact on young people experiencing homelessness. We also see COVID’s impact on service providers as they continue to carry out their duties with passion and to provide support to YYA experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

Our public systems have been challenged to be flexible and respond quickly to COVID. Because of that, we hope that LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer+) and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) young people experiencing homelessness are not left to fall through the cracks of these systems.

Even still, we are optimistic about the future. In the Anchor Communities, we are seeing a flood of support from service providers, private philanthropy, and local governments. Youth and young adults continue to show up to Youth Advisory Board (YAB) meetings and Anchor Community Initiative Core Team meetings to provide feedback and input on processes and systemic changes. Our staff have adapted to remote work, and are working hard to assist communities with finding solutions to these complex issues.

We are also encouraged by the news from Olympia – thanks to your advocacy, renewed funding has been secured for the four communities, keeping us on track to reach “functional zero” by the end of next year. It also seems likely that the Anchor Community Initiative will expand to a new cohort of communities, with other counties in the state building upon the resources and lessons learned of the first four.

Because of these efforts, It’s very clear to me that all of us are here and ready to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness by helping Washington reach a “Yes to Yes” system. 

In closing, I want to share a quote from Azia Ruff, our ACI Coaching and Improvement Coordinator. She has said, “If the system isn’t working for youth and young adults, then the system isn’t working.” These words help center me, and keep all of us focused on why we do this work, as we move further into 2021 and closer to our goal of ending youth homelessness in Washington state. 

My Story: Elsa St. Claire

Hello, my name is Elsa St Clair and I am 24 years old. My journey of homelessness began in
2017 and has been an ongoing battle since I came to Spokane in January 2020 and landed
at Hope House Women’s Shelter, where I stayed there for 5 months. Afterwards, I was able to
move into my current apartment through a Transitional Housing Program called Bridge

A month into staying at Bridge I was asked if I would be interested in participating in a Spokane Youth Advisory Board (YAB) meeting to share my lived experience with
homeless service providers. I knew right away I was on the path to making some big
changes for youth and young adults experiencing housing instability here in Spokane. 

Shortly after I began to attend YAB meetings, I was invited to an Anchor Community Initiative (ACI) Core Team Meeting. I sat in on my first ACI meeting just to listen and learn about what projects they were working on in the city of Spokane. There was a lot of information to absorb. 

In the second ACI Core Team meeting I began to share my input and engage with everyone else– showing what I had to offer to help our city. For me, ACI means helping Spokane’s current and future youth and young adults who are struggling. It also means getting to know community members and connecting with them to dismantle barriers preventing youth from having a roof over their heads. ACI has taken the youth voice seriously in implementing changes in the greater Spokane area and I am proud to be a part of the work taking place.

Diversion: Flexibility Fosters Creativity in Housing Young People

Centralized Diversion Fund (CDF) program houses nearly 170 young people since launch!

There is an underlying misconception in a lot of youth work: People need a whole myriad of services before they can be housed. But in its first 7 months of being launched, the Centralized Diversion Fund (CDF) program is already proving that to be a myth. CDF has already housed 161 young people across all four Anchor Communities in creative, immediate and unique ways that are often not possible with the traditional homeless housing system.

Screenshot of Public CDF Dashboard.

The CDF supports young people who are experiencing housing instability in finding quick, sustainable solutions to those barriers, often preventing homelessness before it starts. At its core, CDF is a strengths-based approach where providers partner with young people to creatively explore and plan for housing options outside of the already taxed homelessness housing system. This is done by providing swift, low-barrier financial  assistance for housing-related hiccups when needed.

Across the four communities, initial demographic data is showing that young people who identify as Hispanic/Latinx represent a large portion of requests at (27%). White young people represent 40 percent of requests, and Black or African American represent 22 percent. (Data got you curious? Check-out the CDF Dashboard here to see real-time data including more on demographics). 

It is all but clear that one population benefiting from CDF most so far is young people who are pregnant and/or parenting, who make up 44 percent of all requests submitted so far. Young families are often left out of many services designed for young people – but that doesn’t happen with CDF. 

In one example, a young parent with a newborn had gotten approved for an apartment but had nowhere to stay until their move-in date that was 3 weeks away. CDF was used to purchase a hotel for that time so this young family could be off the streets and safe until their move-in date. 

CDF can be used for basically anything – provided that the client meets eligibility and there’s a quick and direct pathway to housing outside the homelessness system. Since August, the Anchor Communities have used the flexibility of the program to get creative with housing young people. That includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Helping college students find/maintain stable housing. One young person was staying in shelter and had just enrolled in their local community college. After finding a roommate and place to live closer to campus, CDF was used to help with move-in costs and furniture. They were housed shortly after. 
  • Supporting folks exiting the foster care system. Another young person had just enrolled in extended foster care after exiting foster care (EFC) forced them to stay in a shelter. They were able to identify an apartment to live in that would be supported by EFC  ongoing, but just needed CDF to help with the administrative costs that the EFC was not able to pay for. 
  • Reuniting/reconnecting families – near and far. CDF was used to help a young person relocate to Puerto Rico, where they would reunite with their family, after the young person entered housing instability due to COVID. All that was needed was confirmation from the family in Puerto Rico, plane ticket and plan. 
  • Stabilizing the young person’s family. We already talked about how CDF is creatively housing current and expectant parents, but CDF can also have a ripple effect of benefit for other people in the young person’s network. In one example, a young person wanted to move in with their family member who just didn’t have a big enough space for them. Since this family member only received SSI benefits, they couldn’t afford the necessary re-housing fees for finding a space that worked – even with the young person helping with costs ongoing. CDF was used for the move-in costs for this family to be able to reunite with each other. 

Diversion changes the nature of service delivery by putting the power in the hands of the clients and honoring the fact that they know most about what they need. It allows space for creative housing solutions like those listed above, and others that are yet to even be thought of. Diversion’s low-barrier approach also makes it easier for clients to get the help they need in a more timely manner compared to other assistance programs because they don’t have to go.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Centralized Diversion Fund program and how it’s impacting Anchor Communities, please email us at kserantes@awayhomewa.org

Zooming Along: The 2021 Legislative Session & A Way Home Washington

We recently received great news for the future of the Anchor Community Initiative – and it’s all because of you. For the past two months, you’ve been organizing, contacting your legislators, and making your voices heard. And our champions in the legislature were listening.

Both the Senate and House have joined Governor Inslee and included an expansion of the Anchor Community Initiative (ACI) in their budgets. It is very likely this will be in the final budget passed by both chambers – with this funding, the ACI can expand to additional communities across Washington.

At the same time, both budgets include renewed funding for the original four Anchor Communities, meaning that the work can continue in Spokane, Pierce, Yakima, and Walla Walla counties. We are on our way to reaching “yes to yes” and ending youth and young adult homelessness in these four communities by the end of next year.

We have only reached this point because of the power of your organizing and advocacy. Every time you sent an email to your legislators, attended a meeting, shared a tweet, or spoke to your community, you were moving ACI expansion closer to reality. Just last week, we were honored to have two rallies attended by dozens of supporters from across Washington who heard from First Lady Trudi Inslee, our legislative champions, and young advocates.

Your input and feedback is one of the most powerful and impactful tools there is in influencing the legislature. So, thank you for using your voice on behalf of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. You made a difference!

While we are celebrating the positive budget news this week, the work isn’t over. There is still a month of legislative session, and we have to keep the pressure on to make sure the ACI stays in the budget all the way to final passage. Now, we can thank our champion legislators and urge them to keep up the fight. Senators Christine Rolfes, June Robinson, Andy Billig, Jeannie Darneille, and T’wina Nobles, and Representatives Timm Ormsby, Lisa Callan, Frank Chopp, and Tarra Simmons deserve our thanks!

If you’re able, send a quick message thanking our champions and urging them to keep up the fight on Anchor Community Initiative expansion in the final budget.

Other updates and thoughts: The 2021 legislative session has been “zooming” along – literally and metaphorically. This being the first fully virtual session, including committee meetings, floor action and meetings with legislators, it has been an exercise in modern technology. Perhaps the refrain, “You’re on mute,” has never been heard so often by so many. 

Also notable about the 2021 legislative session is the incredible impact of the diversity of lawmakers within the body. Having so many legislators who are people of color, combined with the impact of being all-virtual and eliminating barriers to travel to Olympia, has resulted in many more people of color testifying on proposed bills that have informed the debate in a powerfully positive way. Bills such as law enforcement reform, landlord-tenant relations, and adding a progressive capital gains tax have been front and center with the diversity of public testimony being exponentially more interesting and valuable than in years past.

As we march forward these last few weeks of the 2021 session, we do so convinced that the best way to end adult homelessness is to end youth and young adult homelessness. We are building a “Yes to Yes” system in Washington so that when young people say “Yes, I need support,” their local communities can say in return “Yes, come inside for safe housing and a path forward”.  Come join us!  Young people and families are relying on all of US. Thank you for all that you do.

Yakima: The First Community to Use Student Stability Innovation Grants

We are so excited to let you know that we recently launched our newest project to end unaccompanied student homelessness – Student Stability Innovation Grants. YAKIMA is the FIRST community to submit a grant request and it has been APPROVED!!!!

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services will test the use of peer social media influencers to outreach and engage LGBTQ+ unaccompanied students experiencing homelessness in Yakima County, to increase requests for prevention, housing and support services. Grant funds will pay two young people to engage their peers on social media during the summer months when unaccompanied students are harder to reach. The influencers will craft posts, accurately respond to questions, and generate ideas for engaging their followers. 

The test period is July-September 2021 and the goal is to increase the number of street outreach enrollments of unaccompanied LGBTQ+ students by 20%. Their baseline data will be the amount of enrollments they have documented from the same time period in 2020.

Student Stability Innovation Grants

The Student Stability Innovation Grants project provides a limited number of grants up to $5,000 per project for Anchor Communities to test truly innovative system changes to prevent and end housing instability for unaccompanied students aged 12-24.

Core Teams can find all the necessary documents, tools and webforms on the Innovation Grants Page on our Resource Hub

Student Stability Innovation Grants Forms

*Printable version in the Guidelines

Student Stability Innovation Grants Resources

We are so excited for the first of many out-of-the-box change ideas to move our communities closer to ending student homelessness, and homelessness for all unaccompanied young people!

If you have any questions, please reach out to Ashley, ACI Project Director at abarnes-cocke@awayhomewa.org

ACI: Pierce County– Increasing Housing Placement Rates By 30%

Congratulations to Pierce County on achieving the of their first reducing process measure—increasing housing placement rates by 30% by the end of September 2020. With assistance from the ACI Coaching team, Pierce County set this goal and began working on it in mid-June. A big factor in choosing this goal was the level of success and ease of implementation that they have seen from other communities across the country that were working with one of our partner agencies—Community Solutions. Consistently increasing housing placements is critical for communities to see reductions in homelessness overall in their systems

Pierce County leaned into this reducing goal, and three workgroups were created:

  1. Maximizing Diversion Success
  2. Increasing permanent housing exits
  3. Accessible housing programs

The Increasing Permanent Housing Exits workgroup conducted a focus group with youth and young adults in Pierce County to understand what they need to remain housed once they transition into permanent housing. The Maximizing Diversion Success subcommittee focused on ensuring the right service providers in Pierce County were trained to access the CDF resource.

Increasing the quality of data collection has been a tremendously helpful resource to communities during the reducing phase. In addition, the Pierce County Core Team increased the frequency that they updated their housing placement data so that they could see week-by-week breakdowns. These frequent updates allowed the Core Team to be aware of how many youths and young adults were exiting homelessness in real time.

Now that Piece County has achieved their first reducing process measure, they have moved on to their new goal of reducing homelessness for youth of color by 30% by March 2021. Going forward, Pierce County is thinking about what other reducing projects that they can implement that are more influenced by the outcomes of the homeless system and what needs to be done to reach a functional end to youth homelessness by the end of 2022. Every goal communities hit should be intentional about positively moving the data to see a reduction in the amount of youth coming into the system and an increase in those exiting.

Education and My Experiences

Currently in my fourth year at Walla Walla University, I’m truly proud of myself for making it this far. Growing up, my family and I lived off social security, food stamps, and section eight housing. So, the fact that I’m going to college to have a career to provide for myself is truly a dream.

Esther

I’m the youngest out of four siblings. However, I only grew up around two of my siblings. Among my siblings, I am the first to go to college. Me and my two sibling who I grew up with were raised by a single mother who started, but never finished college. Throughout my college experience, I’ve felt the pressure to complete my degree since my mother didn’t, and there have been various times when the pressure to do well academically has been very stressful. I constantly deal with self-doubt about whether or not I’ll get my four-year degree, but when I apply myself every day, I prove to myself that I can do it.

Most students who attend college have a stable support system to turn to when they need guidance, but for me that’s been a challenge. My mother died of cancer almost seven years ago and she was my everything. Not having her to turn to during this very important transitional and pivotal time in my life is isolating, devastating, and makes me angry to say the least. Now living in the Walla Walla area, I have made connections with people that I can see being in my life for a long time, even after I complete my degree. That includes faculty from the university, friends I’ve made here, as well as people I see as mentors in my life. I’m studying strategic communication at Walla Walla University and I finally know what I want to do as a career. It took three years of college to have peace in knowing that I chose the right major and that I could have a career in something that I’m passionate about.

My long-term goal is to use my degree to change the foster care system from the inside out. Having personally been in the system more than once, I feel strongly about completing college because many youth who exit the system don’t graduate from college with a four-year degree. I want to use my experiences in foster care and in college to be an example for youth who’re currently in foster care, so they know that they have a purpose and that they’re more than their stories. Also, in using my degree, I want to give youth who are in foster care and who’ve aged out of the system the platform to tell their stories any way they want to—the good and the bad.

I believe in the power of owning your story and not allowing society to dictate how you tell it or express it. I’ve proven to myself, time and time again, that I’m resilient, I’ve accomplished and will continue to accomplish great things. I know I will get my four-year degree.

 

Pandemic Ripples Through Spokane Systems

Youth, young adults, and alumni with lived experience have the wisdom and expertise we need to develop effective solutions to youth and young adult homelessness. Tyrell is a member of the Spokane Anchor Community Initiative Core Team, and this is his story of how the current public health crisis has affected life and access to services in his community.

Tyrell

In Spokane, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been gripping our state, there has been a decrease in the availability of services to youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. Also, due to the stay at home orders forcing providers to limit the work they can do day to day, youth that have need of housing placement have a harder time obtaining the needed resources to get stably housed. Businesses are also not hiring due to the current situation of the stay at home order Governor Inslee has set in place, which has personally affected me as well as I continue to search for employment. This all adds up to people being stuck in between a rock and hard place of no job, no home and no way to get either.

In Spokane, providers have really stepped up to the plate to face this issue and have found ways to ensure that the youth and young adults in our community are safe and securely housed as best as they can in these limiting conditions. This means some have been putting extra time and effort to meet youth where they are and provide those needed services. Many of the resources I know of in my community are limited on what kind of services remain available to use during this pandemic and the ones that are open are currently doing the best they can to meet the needs of our community.

I myself am lucky enough to not be currently homeless, but many of my peers that participate in advocacy groups such as Youth Advisory Board and The Mockingbird Society are not as lucky. This is why right now more than ever our work in the Anchor Community Initiative is vital to reduce the number of youth entering into homelessness and quickly housing the ones who do. As a youth who understands the feeling of not knowing exactly where I might live next, it makes me glad that such work is still happening remotely while we are in quarantine.

As this year keeps moving and we gradually start getting back to functioning normally, I hope that we come out a stronger community and maintain the mindfulness of one another. I have hope that we will be closer and more compassionate to each member of our community.

When a Routine Changes

Youth, young adults, and alumni with lived experience have the wisdom and expertise we need to develop effective solutions to youth and young adult homelessness. Jada is a member of the Yakima Anchor Community Initiative Core Team, and this is her story of how the current public health crisis has affected life and access to services in her community.

Being a single mom can be hard. Going to school online while parenting is a challenge. So is staying on top your health. What happens when a routine changes? Things get disorganized and for a while it seems like life is upside down. In 2016 I experienced homelessness for many different reasons. At that time, I lived in Seattle, WA and had to really dig for resources that were able to support me in my situation. In the following years the cycle repeated itself. I was never “stable or supported” to begin with from the way some organizations had promised. Reentering homelessness, I decided to move back home to Yakima and figure it out from there. As soon as I asked a few questions from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and other people in the area, I knew there was enough support to help me stabilize myself the way I was hoping for from the start.

COVID-19 has taken its turn on my life. My name is Jada Topps, I currently live in Yakima, WA. I am 20 years old and a parent to a beautiful baby boy that is 7 months old. I am a type one diabetic since the age of four and due to the COVID-19 virus I am currently attending four classes online at Yakima Valley College.

Before COVID, I was attending weekly meetings with my case managers from Catholic Charities, Rod’s House, Life Choices, and my advisor for school. As the result of an accident, I was going to the chiropractor and taking my son to his follow up appointments as well. Our routine was perfect. Sometimes things were complicated, but life was smooth, and I felt supported.

As of today, because of the pandemic I am no longer able to attend my weekly meetings with some of my case managers. Rod’s House is closed, so I cannot get the same type of help that was provided before. That includes helping me with my power bill, phone bill, rent, laundry access, toiletries so I can save more money for the other essentials I need such as food.

Catholic Charities is not able to assist me right now with the goals that I have been working on. This is important because I feel like with my goals, it is easier for me to visualize if I am being held accountable. Showing up sometimes is the best way to ensure I stick to my own commitments, but they are doing weekly scheduled phone calls to ensure we aren’t losing our motivation to stay housed. Life Choices is still distributing care via curbside pickup if you call ahead for free diapers, baby cereals, and wipes.

All the routine disruption makes it hard to not reenter the state of mind that “nothing is going how it should or how fast I would like it to, so I might as well give up.” But I feel the love and support that is shared between these organizations, and because of their drive and motivation to push me forward and see me be successful I will keep fighting to win, in EVERYTHING I do.

How System Level Crisis Has Affected Youth And Young Adults In Pierce County

Youth, young adults, and alumni with lived experience have the wisdom and expertise we need to develop effective solutions to youth and young adult homelessness. Brianna is a member of the Pierce Anchor Community Initiative Core Team, and this is her story of how the current public health crisis has affected life and access to services in her community.

Across the globe, COVID-19 has caused complete chaos. People are losing their jobs, family members, and overall security. According to an article written by Time Magazine, the economy has fallen so hard that we have officially got the Great Depression beat. While a stimulus and unemployment boost have been implemented, we still leave out some of our most vulnerable populations: youth, young adults, people of color (POC), and those affected by housing instability. COVID did not create these problems, but only exacerbated the problems of broken systems.

Brianna

On March 11th, Washington State schools were ordered to close. As the beginning of bad things, this broke me. High school was my safe place – a place where I could get breakfast and lunch, charge my phone, and access the internet. Fortunately, within days the districts were able to arrange for students to receive free lunches. Schools and local organizations have stepped up to help provide internet access and tablets for distance learning, yet many youths are still struggling to receive and keep these supports. Colleges closed campus and evicted everyone from the dorms – leaving refugees, immigrants, and the houseless with nowhere to go. According to an article published by CNN Child Protective Services (CPS) reports have dropped by over 50%. That means more youth are not being advocated for and are possibly stuck with their abusers.

On March 18th, Governor Inslee announced a moratorium on evictions for residential tenants. Unfortunately, this only helped a few. If the pandemic had happened 3 years ago, I would have lost my home again, as I was relying on friends for housing support and wouldn’t have been protected under an eviction moratorium. This is a problem for a lot of youth and young adults. According to a study published by Harvard, when it comes to householders under the age of 25, 78% are renters. Now that the moratorium has been extended through August 1, provisions have been added to protect tenants from late fees, but it still does not offer permanent relief or protections for people who are couch surfing.

On March 24th, Governor Inslee announced the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that left nearly half a million folx unemployed state-wide. As youth struggle to stay “essential” and healthy, we are forced to battle an unemployment system that was not designed for us. While a few barriers have been relaxed due to the pandemic, it is still almost impossible to get benefits as a youth. Between the week wait times, proof of identity, and emotional labor required to access benefits, many are being left behind.

On April 11th, the IRS started depositing stimulus checks. Under the CARES Act, Americans who filed taxes in either 2018 or 2019 and made under $75k annually were to receive a one-time payment of $1,200 to help people get by and stimulate the economy. This, unfortunately, leaves out youth who have/are not able to file their taxes, undocumented or DACA residents, and even Americans who are married to an undocumented immigrant. Not to mention the requirement of having a bank account and/or reliable home address has left many houseless without a way to receive a check. Although the new proposal for a second payment, the HEROES Act, would include youth ages 16 to 18, it has already been noted by NBC News that this will likely not pass and our young adults are still going without equal supports to survive this hardship.

Meanwhile, foster youth have been especially hurt. Currently there are no protections for youth aging out of foster/extended foster care – which leaves a lot of youth to exit directly into homelessness. Visitations have been suspended with little support given to ensure visits can still happen virtually. There are talks of things being in the works, but youth need support now.

If this pandemic has shown us youth anything, it is that the systems designed to serve the people are not designed to serve youth.