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.

What’s Next for the Anchor Community Initiative?

Our Anchor Communities have been making amazing progress to end youth and young adult homelessness, with one community reaching quality real-time data, and three out of four communities have completed the By-Name List Scorecard. It feels like the perfect time to highlight what’s next for A Way Home Washington and the Anchor Community Initiative.

As a refresher, the Anchor Community Initiative is based on the Built for Zero model, which has four phases. The first phase requires communities to achieve quality, real-time data. This has already been achieved by Pierce County, while Walla Walla and Yakima County are only a couple months away. The second phase is reducing. At this point, communities begin to implement improvement projects and use quality real-time data to evaluate the success of these projects.

So, what does reducing mean for to the Anchor Community Initiative? At a high-level, it means lowering the number of young people experiencing homelessness across the entire system. To start this process, our Data and Evaluation Director, Liz, has created different focus areas, or reducing process measures. Communities set goals around any of the following focus areas to start seeing reductions in their homeless numbers:

1. Lowering the number of unsheltered young people
2. Increasing the number of housing placements
3. Lowering returns from housing into homelessness
4. Lowering the average length of time young people experience homelessness

Pierce County is the first community to set a goal around one of these measures: They will focus on increasing housing placements by 30% by August 2020. As communities begin reporting race/ethnicity data and sexual orientation, gender expression and identity (SOGIE) data, they will be able to further refine their goals by adding an equity component. For example, if a community’s data shows that Black young people are housed at a lower rate than young people of other ethnicities, the community can set a goal around increasing housing placements for this population.

Communities will have access to a new tool to boost their reduction efforts: The Centralized Diversion Fund. Starting in July 2020, these flexible funds will be accessible to young people through local service providers to support them with costs like short-term rental assistance, move-in costs, and more. This will help young people stay housed and reduce the number of young people coming into the homeless system.

Youth and young adult engagement is a staple of the Anchor Community Initiative. Communities have laid the groundwork, and now they will continue to build towards the Gold Standard for youth and young adult engagement. Young people will be treated as experts and leaders in the work. This means that young people will be part of hiring, strategy development, and project implementation during this phase of the work, including choosing at least two reduction improvement projects.

Throughout all this work, we will capture best practices and successes in each community to share with other Anchor Communities and aid them in their processes. After reducing, the third phase of the work is ending youth and young adult homelessness. This means communities will create a Yes to Yes system where they have the capacity to support every young person who needs help and achieve equitable outcomes for young people of color and LGBTQ+ young people. We’re working hard to help communities end youth and young adult homelessness by the end of 2022 and sustain their achievement for generations to come!

 

 

Meet Our Community Engagement Coordinator!

For the past nine years, I’ve been working to end youth and young adult homelessness in different capacities. I’ve worked in advocacy, direct services and creating partnerships. From all these experiences, I’ve learned that to transform systems, we need to listen and bring people together.

Deonate with The Mockingbird Society Engagement Coordinators and Chapter Leaders

I started my work in this field at The Mockingbird Society, where I started to see how system-level change requires multiple parties to push for reform. It became apparent that everyone who interacts with the system is part of the solution – from young people to legislators to funders to social services staff. In my six-and-a-half years at Mockingbird, I had the opportunity to interact with people in all these roles and help rally them around our mission.

When I moved into a direct service role at the Accelerator YMCA, I saw firsthand how young people’s insights and expertise can help shape effective programs. My job was to connect young adults ages 18-24 with flexible diversion funds that could support their housing needs and keep them from experiencing homelessness. We held focus groups with young people to gather their feedback on the program, leading to adjustments to make the program more effective at meeting their needs.

Right before joining the A Way Home Washington team, I worked at YouthCare, where I helped connect service providers throughout King County with the juvenile court system. Working closely with the system, I gained perspective into how partnerships between systems and service providers can help ensure better outcomes for young people.

During these nine years, I’ve heard organizations speak about changing the system countless times. And I agree – we do need change! But my mental picture of the system has changed over the years. It’s transformed from a monolithic, singular entity in my mind to a composite of the multiple individuals that comprise the system. And this shift has made the prospect of changing the system less intimidating – it’s not about moving one giant colossus, but rather about unifying the individuals that make up the system to work together.

Changing the system means unifying legislators around policy that will result in better outcomes for young people. Listening to young people and making changes so they can navigate services more easily. Making investments so that service providers can more easily do their work and support young people. And it means constantly asking ourselves who is missing from the table.

As Community Engagement Coordinator, my work will center on building a table that prioritizes those most impacted by youth and young adult homelessness. That means communities of color. The LGBTQ+ community. Young people with lived experience and alumni. Everyone at A Way Home Washington is accountable for ensuring that these voices always guide our work, and through this position we have the added capacity to work on these relationships intentionally and continuously.

To ensure that our work leads to everlasting and equitable change, we’re going to need the perspective of all parties involved in systems that serve young people. We’ll need to think critically about who needs to be included in these conversations and processes. This is one of the reasons I’m excited to be part of the A Way Home Washington team. If we’re going to do this right, then everyone involved needs to have a voice in this process.