Youth-Led Activism in Walla Walla

The year 2020 has been a year of events that are unexplainable and out of this world. COVID-19 has forced the world to reshape how we go about our everyday lives and how we interact with one another. Being a college student, my spring quarter was online due to COVID-19. Then, George Floyd’s murder took place and has left the black community and people around the world at a loss for words and experiencing various heart aches. If you asked me to describe 2020 in three words, I would say “To be continued…”

Esther Taylor

Being a person of color, dealing with the killing of George Floyd and the many other black lives that have been lost this year and in the past, I feel I have a responsibility to speak up about racial injustice and systemic racism. I’ve been living in the Walla Walla area for almost a year and I’ve noticed that there is a lack of black people that live here. Even though there are not a lot of black people living in Walla Walla, the ones that do live here matter and our voices deserve to be heard and listened to. I want mine and other people of colors’ voices to be heard and taken seriously, not just during this time when it feels like the world has stopped, but continuously throughout life. There’s so much work to be done for the black community in making racial equality a reality for people of color.

Before the killing of George Floyd, I was not speaking up about racial injustice, nor was I staying in the loop about racial injustice. Even now, I still feel I need to pay more attention to all that’s going on in the world when it comes to racism, amongst other things. By trying to be more educated on the topic of racism, I’m able to have more in-depth conversations with people when the topic comes up in a conversation. To not acknowledge that there is racism is a serious problem and something that needs to be addressed head on.

I’ve gone downtown Walla Walla to protest for myself and the black community more than once this summer. The experiences I’ve had protesting in Walla Walla have been generally positive, but I have had a couple of experiences with naysayers as well. I wish that people who don’t have to experience racism could be open-minded, compassionate, and understanding to people of color who do have to deal with it. I want them to lend their voices in helping support the Black Lives Matter movement. This year has shown me that now more than ever it is important to come together in solidarity, supporting one another in changing systemic racism, and speaking up for people who can’t or are afraid to.

With police brutality having a strong intersection with racism and homelessness, it’s important to examine why, change societal stigmas around people of color and homelessness, and be a voice for people who identify with these experiences. People of color are hounded by the police time and time again due to the color of their skin and it isn’t right. People of color deserve to have equal opportunities like anyone else to live in America feeling safe, secure, and loved. The same principle goes for anyone who has experienced or is experiencing homelessness. Whether living on the streets, sleeping in your car, or couch surfing, being homeless is not fun nor should it be something society continuously overlooks and stigmatizes. In reality, people who have experienced or are homeless deserve so much credit for persevering and overcoming a very hard obstacle and circumstance in their lives.

As a Walla Walla community, each and every one of us has a voice that can be used to end racism, police brutality, and homelessness. It is important to address the unfair treatment of communities that are viewed a certain way, and to help make long-lasting change for these communities and the younger generation coming after them.

Spokane Tests Improvements to Coordinated Entry

Now that all Anchor Communities are on a path to achieve quality, real-time data, communities have started testing new strategies to reduce homelessness. In Spokane, the community’s Coordinated Entry Diversion Workgroup and Youth Advisory Board (YAB) are collaborating to test simple changes to the Coordinated Entry process and measure their impact on reducing homelessness.

Coordinated Entry is the first interaction a young person has with a service provider regarding their housing crisis. Service providers ask a series of questions to assess a young people’s needs and determine how to best connect them with resources. However, the team observed that the next steps after Coordinated Entry were unclear to many young people, and as a result many never had a second contact with a service provider. After 90 days of no contact, a young person’s status is moved to “inactive,” and if they are still experiencing a housing crisis, they would need to complete the Coordinated Entry assessment again.

YAB members suggested that the problem may be that young people leave the Coordinated Entry process without a clear understanding of what next steps to expect. They suggested testing a simple new tool: The Coordinated Entry Next Step Form. The form is a tangible resource young people can take with them, listing the date when the Coordinated Entry assessment was conducted, the date 90 days later when it will expire, a contact person that they can reach with questions or access support, and general information around possible next steps and things to work on while they wait to hear back from service providers.

“This project is so important because so many of the youth and young adults who meet with someone for a Coordinated Entry appointment leave feeling confused and unsure what should be happening next,” said Julius Henrichsen, Youth Homelessness Coordinator at Volunteers of America. “Youth input got this project started, and we’ve received incredibly valuable feedback on how this should look directly from youth experts.”

Outreach staff in Volunteer of America’s YouthReach program and SNAP began using the Coordinated Entry Next Step Form in mid-July. After two weeks, the team reconvened to evaluate results. During that time, 11 heads of household under 25 went through a Coordinated Entry assessment. Of that group, only one person qualified to receive the Coordinated Entry Next Step Form, since it was specifically formulated for unaccompanied young people experiencing homelessness. The team concluded that a longer, 90-day testing period will be required to truly measure results, reviewing progress every two weeks.

This project exemplifies many of Anchor Community Initiative’s core values:

  • Youth leadership. The idea for the project came directly from young people. YAB members reflected on their own experiences with Coordinated Entry and identified improvements to boost its effectiveness. They also shaped the creation of the form and provided insight on what would work best for young people. For instance, the form is printed on a half-sheet that young people can fold and easily fit in a pocket, for easy portability and to keep the information on the form private. “We felt it was important to understand youth perspective and hear feedback on where there has been confusion before in the process to secure stable housing,” said Amy Johnson, Housing Specialist at SNAP. “We wanted to make this resource a user-friendly, pocket sized document that clearly identified next steps.”
  • Data-driven. The team identified a clear metric to evaluate the project: Tracking the number of young people whose status changes to inactive. If this number goes down after adopting the Coordinated Entry Next Step Form, the community has a clear indication that providing more information during the early stages of the Coordinated Entry process has a positive impact.
  • Following improvement science principles. These principles guide communities to test changes that are small and measurable. This way, communities can quickly implement changes and determine if the changes made an impact on homelessness numbers. Then, communities can iterate and build on changes that have proven effective.

We are eager to see Anchor Communities test more strategies and learn what sorts of changes lead to reductions in homelessness!

Our Definition of Ending Youth and Young Adult Homelessness

What does it mean to end youth and young adult homelessness? In the Anchor Community Initiative, we define ending youth and young adult homelessness as reaching functional zero – a state where a community’s youth and young adult homelessness system has the capacity to house every young person experiencing homelessness each month.

Exact definitions for functional zero are tailored to local communities and to specific populations. For example, reaching functional zero for youth and young adults looks different from reaching functional zero for chronic homelessness. Generally, definitions of functional zero call for communities to have enough housing, services, and shelter beds for everyone in the community who needs support. Common goals include increasing permanent housing, reducing, or eliminating unsheltered homelessness, decreasing returns to the homelessness system, and reducing the length of time that people experience homelessness.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) provides benchmarks for ending youth and young adult homelessness. The Anchor Community Initiative’s functional zero measures are based on these benchmarks, with the addition of equity measures. We believe that communities cannot achieve an end to youth homelessness without also ending disproportionality.

Disproportionality means that young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx experience homelessness at higher rates than their white, heterosexual, cisgender peers. For example, in our 2018 landscape scan we found that while 4% of the population in Washington state is Black, Black young people represented 24% of youth in the homeless system. Aside from experiencing higher rates of homelessness, these young people also experience systemic and institutional racism, resulting in lower rates of placements into permanent housing, a higher rate of returns to homelessness, and longer time experiencing homelessness compared to their peers.

Our definition of functional zero takes these disparities into account. To get to functional zero, Anchor Communities must ensure that young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx:

  • Return to homelessness at equal or lower rate than their peers
  • Are housed at the same or higher rate than their peers
  • Spend equal or less time experiencing homelessness than their peers

Coaching our Anchor Communities to these functional zero and zero disproportionality measures keeps racial and LGBTQ+ equity embedded into the core of our work. Achieving these outcomes requires Anchor Communities to consider the impact to young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx in their reduction strategies and improvement projects. This approach helps team members identify and address the root causes of disproportionality and inequitable outcomes, helping us create a world where homelessness can truly be eradicated.

Advocating for Racial Justice

As nationwide protests have unfolded over the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and many more Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), the staff at A Way Home Washington have been reflecting on the intersection between the over policing of BIPOC and youth and young adult (YYA) homelessness. We cannot in good conscience stand in silence, and we’ve begun to develop a local advocacy strategy geared towards addressing these issues.

The integrity of police institutions has been called into question. Many concerned community members are wondering, does the police exist to serve and protect the larger community, or to perpetuate systems of power? Those of us who work in the social services sector know all too well what the consequences of policing can be for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. The over policing of BIPOC has led to high rates of incarceration, which results in barriers to employment and housing, leading to the overrepresentation of BIPOC in homeless systems and an increase in those experiencing housing instability. We have heard many times from the youth and young adults that we work with that they are harassed by police while experiencing homelessness. This issue becomes exacerbated for BIPOC.

Artwork Deonate photographed in Seattle

For me, this fight is personal. Every time I turn on the news and see one of my fellow African American brothers, sisters, and non-binary kinfolk murdered by the police, it feels like a piece of my soul has also been killed alongside of them. My heart goes out to people experiencing homelessness as they are caught in the crossfire. When the initial protests broke out in downtown Seattle, I observed police using mace, gas, and force on individuals experiencing homelessness to funnel them out of the area. I also observed youth and young adults experiencing homelessness pleading with police to stop because they did not have any place to go.

Because policing and systems of care are so intrinsically intertwined in the work that we do to address youth and young adult homelessness, we’ve made the choice to help elevate community demands to defund police departments and reinvest the money back into the Black community. Along with 11 partners, we wrote a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best. We’re also supporting local advocacy efforts in our Anchor Communities. In Walla Walla, the community has risen to demand a change in police culture, and we are here to follow the community’s lead while lending our support and expertise in starting dialogue with elected officials.

We’ve also started building a coalition within the youth and young adult homelessness sector to explore what our role is in the movement to advance racial justice. We believe that we need to question the ways non-profits have traditionally held power and examine how we can shift power towards grassroots organizers and coalitions led by young people.

Change sometimes requires radical thinking and action. A system built on a foundation of abuse and oppression towards BIPOC and defenseless individuals is one that does not serve the people. That system can either transform or risk being dismantled and replaced. We stand behind all communities demanding justice and shifting culture towards one that is equitable and just. We believe that’s the way to ensure that all young people can access the resources they need to move out of homelessness and thrive.

The Anchor Community Initiative’s Equity Plan

Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGTBQ+ folx disproportionately experience homelessness. If we’re truly serious about ending homelessness, we must be equally serious about ending the systemic racism and discrimination against LGBTQ+ folx that lead to this inequity.

Often, racial and LGBTQ+ equity are perceived as “extra work” that we do in addition to the “real work” of ending homelessness. We believe that equity IS the work, and that we cannot end homelessness without it. To ensure equity is an action embedded in all our values, practices, and programs, we’ve woven equity milestones into the Anchor Community Initiative work plan. We cannot say the work is complete without accomplishing them. Here are the elements of our equity plan:

Defining Success

Last year, we defined what ending homelessness means to us. The Anchor Community Initiative is driving towards functional zero, a state where communities have the capacity to house every actively homeless, unaccompanied young person. We decided that for us, ending homelessness also means examining housing placements, returns to homelessness, and length of time experiencing homelessness for young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx, and ensuring their outcomes in these measures are equitable.

Education and Optimization

This year, Anchor Communities are implementing projects to reduce the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. For these projects to truly drive towards ending homelessness, they also need to drive towards equitable outcomes for young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx. To make sure improvement projects are aligned with equity outcomes, we are:

  • Enhancing youth leadership in Anchor Community teams by developing partnerships with youth advisory groups that will design and select improvement projects.
  • Establishing race and LGBTQ+ equity competencies to ensure every team member is equipped to embed equity outcomes into improvement projects.
  • Coaching communities to set goals around identifying and ending disproportionality in their systems.
  • Improving the collection of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) data to reduce the number of young people on the By-Name List with this information listed as “unknown.”

Full Integration

In our vision for 2021 and beyond, every improvement project will directly lead to equity outcomes. That means every project will lead to greater housing placements, reduced returns to homelessness, or less time experiencing homelessness for young BIPOC or LGBTQ+ folx. Teams will have reliable data to measure these outcomes, including quality SOGIE data for young people on the By-Name List. And Anchor Community teams will have strong relationships with youth advisory groups guiding the direction of projects. With all these elements in place, we’ll be on our way to truly end youth and young adult homelessness!

Launching the Centralized Diversion Fund

To end youth and young adult homelessness, we need a variety of solutions in our toolbox. Young people’s situations are unique, and that means communities must build the capacity to respond to all sorts of needs. That’s why we created the Centralized Diversion Fund, a source of flexible financial assistance to help secure housing for young people.

Diversion is a creative problem-solving approach where service providers empower young people to take the necessary steps to address their unique situation and secure housing quickly. Providers let young people take the lead in identifying the housing solution that will work for them, and support young people to implement their housing plan. This allows communities to use creative conversations paired with funding to resolve young people’s immediate housing needs, rather than waiting for housing units to open up.

Diversion can mean many different types of support, from connecting young people with family or friends who can house them, to negotiating with a landlord. At times, diversion can lead to a housing placement without any financial assistance, but as we’ve heard from young people before, sometimes what they truly need to stay housed is cash. That’s where the Centralized Diversion Fund comes in.

Our systems typically make it too difficult for no- and low-income folks to access the type of funding they need. Flexibility is key to respond to the needs described by young people, yet program models are often too prescriptive. Programs can also be tied to arbitrary measures of worthiness, like employment, and ignore the lived realities of people experiencing poverty. We want to remove these barriers and meet young people where they are, so the Centralized Diversion Fund can be accessed by any unaccompanied young person (ages 12-24) experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of homelessness who needs financial assistance to secure housing.

I have led diversion programs for young people before, and they come up with so many unique housing solutions. In one instance, a young person had a aunt in Oakland who she could stay with if she could get there, so diversion paid for repairs to her car and gas cards for the trip. In another, a young person’s entire family was experiencing homelessness – they had broken up because it was easier to access services that way. We paid for that young person’s first and last month’s rent and deposit to move into an apartment, and the whole family was reunified and housed as a result. The solutions are already within young people, and our role is to provide the resources they need to make the solutions possible.

After months of planning and securing private and public funds, we’ve launching the Centralized Diversion Fund this summer in our four Anchor Communities: Pierce, Spokane, Walla Walla, and Yakima. We’ve selected a local organization to administer the funds in each of these communities, and we’re training service providers in each community to engage young people in diversion conversations and request financial assistance from the fund when it’s needed.

With COVID-19 upending the way we work, our team had to get creative and find ways to keep moving towards a summer launch. We believe that the fund is more important than ever in this moment because the pandemic has impacted so many young people’s ability to earn money. It’s a critical time to ensure young people have access to cash, especially with the end of the eviction moratorium looming ahead of us on October 15. We launched the Centralized Diversion Fund on July 30, 2020!.

When young people can access funds to quickly address their housing crises, they are able to stay out of the homeless system. That in turn preserves resources for young people who have no alternative solutions, and results in faster housing placements within the homeless system. We believe the Centralized Diversion Fund and other cash assistance programs will play a key role in achieving our mission to end youth and young adult homelessness.

Orgullosa: The Intersections in Our Identities

When I wrote about the reasons why I choose to use the word Latinx, for myself and for A Way Home Washington’s organizational voice, I touched on the fact that within the community there are vast differences of opinion on the word. You’ll likely find just as many cases for embracing the word as you’ll find rejections of the word floating out there. For me, one of the strongest reasons to embrace Latinx is to recognize the intersections in our identities.

Last year, I read an interview with Pose actress Mj Rodriguez where she spoke about how as Latinx people we must evolve in our understanding and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Watching the season 1 Pose episode where Blanca sees her family for the first time in years made me deeply sad because I felt the scene could have taken place in the 80s (when the show is set) or in 2020. In the rejection of the word Latinx, I see a resistance to recognize and embrace queerness in our community.

As with all issues that disproportionately impact a certain community, we must dig deep into the root causes if we want to solve it. Just like people of color aren’t born predisposed to homelessness, Latinx people aren’t born predisposed to transphobia and homophobia. But we are raised in environments filled with the scars of colonialism and white supremacy, and we internalize narratives that oppress the LGBTQ+ community.

While Latin America is a region filled with people of Indigenous, African, and European roots, many cultural markers that we associate with latinidad today are the vestiges of European colonization. When the Spanish came to our shores, they were dually interested in the continent’s natural riches and in spreading Catholicism. To this day, some Latin American people and Latinx people in the United States point to their religion as the reason they discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. Even within the past few years, I have seen protests rise in my home country, Panama, opposing the notion that schools should teach children that trans and non-binary folx are part of our community, worthy of respect.

¡Orgullosa! Proud to be Latinx and pansexual!

As a pansexual Latina and an advocate to end young and young adult homelessness, untangling the web of beliefs that leads to discrimination within my community matters to me. First, because LGBTQ+ people are part of our Latinx community, and we deserve for our identities to be acknowledged and respected. And second, because when we say that LGBTQ+ young people and young people of color disproportionately experience homelessness, we must recognize that these two identities do not exist separately. Many young people are LGBTQ+ AND people of color, and I want to be part of a culture that cares for them and gives them homes where they can feel safe and loved.

“Con un dedo no se tapa el sol.” You can’t cover the sun with a finger. That’s what my father told me yesterday when I spoke to my parents about my desire to raise Latinx children who grow up knowing that LGBTQ+ folx are part of our community, worthy of respect. I chose to interpret that as a tiny concession in our generational divide, an acknowledgement that hiding the truth from children won’t get us to a better world. After that conversation, I thought about all the other Latinx children who’ve grown up to see that discrimination – whether it’s transphobia, homophobia, anti-Blackness among non-Black Latinx folx – has no place in our culture. That it was not a part of our culture to begin with, but has taken root after centuries of colonialism. We’re out here, talking to our elders, committing even before our children are born that they will feel safe and loved by us as they are. And I am hopeful that together we will be enough to create the culture our future needs.

We Can’t Collect Data Without Shifting Culture

June is Pride Month! To commemorate the Stonewall riots that took place in late June 1969, each year, across the United States, we join in countless festivities to honor the past. As we are continually reminded, during these revolutionary times, that riots have led to civil rights for marginalized communities, I wanted to turn our attention to the words of Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson. “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” At A Way Home Washington, we are working toward the liberation of LGBTQ+ young people in our system by centering LGBTQ+ data collection in our work to end youth homelessness.

We believe that to end youth homelessness we must end disproportionality within the homelessness system. According to True Colors United 2019 report, we know that 20-40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+ although 7-10% of the youth general population identifies as LGBTQ+. Washington is a leader in discussing Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) data collection but, in my humble opinion, it’s time for some implementation. SOGIE data is instrumental in ending youth homelessness for a population that greatly makes up the overall homeless population. With Black Trans Women disproportionally leading most horrible statistics, disproportionately showing up in murder statistics to name the most horrible, how do we equitably serve my community experiencing homelessness?

As I searched for “best practices” in this area, I kept running into a common problem that showed up for communities from San Francisco to New York City. Every community reported that LGBTQ+ folx do not trust systems with their SOGIE data. This is not surprising knowing how historically the HIV/AIDS epidemic ostracized and demonized queer men, specifically, creating a distrust in our medical system. This still plays out today as we saw transgender healthcare protections reversed under our current administration. During my time working in social services, as an employee, I experienced microaggressions around my gender identity and heard discriminatory comments made by staff due to their “misunderstanding” of young people’s sexuality and/or gender identity. Living out loud is not safe in or outside of our systems of care, so why would an LGBTQ+ community member entering homelessness trust us?

The first step is answering that question for yourself, then your agency, and then the broader system that your agency inhabits. We must shift the internal culture of our system, centering equity for LGBTQ+ and young people of color. This looks like interrogating our spaces, interactions, and responses to crisis through an anti-oppression lens. We also must critique what aspects of white dominant culture inhabit the “rules and regulations” that we follow to protect the clients as well as the folx serving them. Of course, there are big policy and legislative shifts, like insurance covering gender affirming surgeries and operations for your Transgender employees, but there are small changes that go a very long way, like making a Pride agency logo for June.

Sylvia Rivera at the Fourth Annual Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1973. Photo by Richard C. Wandel 1973

When I think about LGBTQ+ inclusivity, safety, and security within a system I think about the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and the STAR House, founded by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera following the historic Stonewall Riots in New York City. Marsha and Sylvia saw that Transgender and Queer homeless youth were not getting their needs met and founded STAR to fill that gap. STAR was the first of its kind, but what would it be like if every youth homelessness shelter already incorporated safety and security for Trans and Queer homeless youth? What would it be like if transitional housing services were more thoughtful of the barriers to employment for Trans individuals? What if we all, in the youth homelessness sector, were so thoughtful and proactive about equity that LGBTQ+ young people felt safe wherever they turned for support? We need to create that system before we start asking folx to trust us with their SOGIE data.

Ending Police Violence Is Our Fight

Our Coaching and Improvement Coordinator Isaac explains why our sector cannot sit on the sidelines as our communities fight to end police violence. Please help us elevate community organizers’ demands in Seattle and send a message to Mayor Jenny Durkan calling for less policing and more community-based solutions,

I can’t start writing without acknowledging #GeorgeFloyd and the long list, spanning 400 years of American violence, of Black and Brown folks murdered by the state. The murder of Black and Brown folks by the state has been embedded in the history of the United States. As a Black person living in this country, I still struggle with finding ways to talk about this history and our current times like it’s not my own.

These murders are a reminder that this world does not see me as equal due to the color of my skin. I remember the words of James Baldwin, that “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” My mother and grandparents made sure to keep me conscious, and suspicious, of the state at a young age. Even as they held positions in systems they called corrupt, we survived on truth, transparency, and the knowledge that things could be better.

Black and Brown families, youth and adults, keep disproportionally falling through the cracks of public services due to racial discrimination and/or bias within these systems. This struggle of calling for our “systems of care” to care for everyone has been carried for centuries by Black and Brown revolutionaries, but it’s not just my problem, or Black and Brown people’s problem. It is a problem for our whole society to solve.

As an advocate for ending youth homelessness, I do not struggle to talk about how the system fails young people experiencing homelessness, every day. What I do struggle with is knowing that this system is directly connected to the state-sanctioned violence that allows police brutality to disproportionally impact Black and Brown people. The overrepresentation of Black and Brown folks being arrested, over-policed, and ultimately gaslit into submission at the hands of the folks who are tasked with “protecting and serving” communities can easily be connected to the overrepresentation of Black and Brown youth in the homeless system. Black and Brown communities are at no fault in this overrepresentation, though our cultural narratives would have us believe so.

These narratives do not serve us in our work to end youth and young adult homelessness. As workers in this sector, we must adopt anti-racist practices to end the funneling of Black and Brown youth into our system. Black Lives Matter is our fight, as are the countless other movements demanding police accountability. Standing in solidarity with these protests is standing in solidarity with the 16-year-old Black young person who cannot access services due to biased federal mandates that rule our local shelters. It’s standing in solidarity with the 23 year old Latinx young person who lost all of their belongings in an encampment sweep.

The fact that large groups of folks experiencing homelessness can be categorized as a gang and jailed is police brutality. Calling to end youth homelessness must require our systems to end police brutality. Here are a few things we can do as a system:

  1. Listen to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) young voices to inform your system FIRSTAt a demonstration I recently attended, the organizers gave a safe space for young people to use their voice for change. In our system, you need to allow feedback from young people to better inform your practice. Those young people need to represent the disproportional number of BIPOC in our system. If you are noticing that you are listening to mostly white voices, you need to start asking why. Wherever you are at in elevating young people’s voices, you need to add an anti-racist lens. The youth are the future, so do not prematurely bury them with their ancestors by not listening to them.
  2. Collaborate with the advocacy of BIPOC folks in your communityFind your local Black Lives Matter affiliate and learn from their practices. During this time, we have seen millions of links to bail out funds, mutual aid funds, and meal trains. These programs have existed since the Internet began, and they have been organized by grassroots community efforts. Partnering with these efforts rather than creating this intricate maze of care that young people continuously struggle to navigate centralizes support. Ending youth homelessness looks like talking to all folks trying to change the world, so get connected!
  3. Create advocacy agendas and demands requiring police brutality and encampment sweeps to end in your communitiesIn Seattle, our police force has over $400 million to “protect and serve.” Our local organizers demanded the City cut that budget in half and reallocate those funds into community-based solutions. Could you imagine what we could do if part of that money was used to end youth and young adult homelessness? Imagine how much money the whole entire state has allocated to policing while we know that policing homelessness is not working. We need to advocate for these types of changes so that we can stop state-sanctioned violence at the hands of “protect and serve.’

George Floyd’s daughter recently was recorded saying her daddy changed the world. I imagine that Martin Luther King Jr’s kids, Malcolm X’s kids, and many other revolutionaries’ children felt the same. But what about the folks that are not elevated in the news? What happens to their kids? Our work is to make sure that they do not end up in homelessness. That they do not get exited from any program into homelessness. That they feel safe and secure in a world that historically has not protected them due to their skin tone. We need to stand with justice, and not the system that calls itself justice currently. The kind that is demanding that things change for the better. For all of us.

Gathering Youth Feedback in Pierce County

For the past 12 months, Anchor Communities have been working hard to achieve quality, real-time data. To reach this milestone, communities must create ways for youth and young adults to provide feedback on their experience accessing systems. In Pierce County, the Core Team created a special committee to work on this task, consisting of Angel, Brianna, and Zaira, three young people with lived experience, and iLeana, The Mockingbird Society’s Youth Engagement Coordinator. Together, they created a new process from start to finish to gather feedback.

“Being involved from the beginning of the project is essential to calling our process co-design,” Angel said. “Everyone’s perspective matters.”

The team worked on a survey to provide young people a safe space to provide their feedback. To begin, they drafted survey questions and worked with young people at the REACH Center GED program to review their questionnaire. This gave the team guidance on how to ask the questions in a way that young people would feel comfortable providing honest feedback. Then, the team developed multiple methods to distribute the survey:

  • The team started with a computer survey. However, some young people had difficulty focusing or reading from the computer, so other methods were developed.
  • Young people were hired to ask the survey questions in person. This helped young people in crisis feel supported throughout the process.
  • Staff who interact with young people for the Coordinated Entry process were trained on the survey so they could also collect information when possible.
Zaira, Devon, iLeana, Angel, and Brianna at A Way Home Washington’s advocacy day

This entire process was led by Angel, Brianna, and Zaira. They were responsible for every detail of the project, from typing up the questionnaire to developing the survey distribution methods. iLeana supported them as needed to keep the project moving, providing coaching on matters like meeting deadlines. This approach helped Angel, Brianna, and Zaira nurture their leadership skills and take full ownership over the project’s outcome.

“It was very valuable for me to have accountability in my projects, like in creating this survey, because it lets me own my own mistakes and successes,” Zaira said.

After gathering responses, the team’s key insights from the survey were:

  • Youth and young adults need easier access to programs that teach independent living skills
  • Young people who are couch-surfing do not always qualify for resources even though they need support to access basic necessities

Our Anchor Communities value co-development of projects with youth and young adults, and this project demonstrates why this is such an important value. Youth and young adults experiencing homelessness navigate these systems every day, and we need their expertise to truly understand what’s working and what’s not. Our work needs to intentionally engage young people on a regular basis, so we rely on current and relevant insights.

“Youth need a seat at the table, and they need to be heard at the table,” Brianna said. “We need to be involved from the beginning of the process, we need to be involved in the design of solutions, and these opportunities need to be compensated and accessible for young people.”

Our partnerships with young people with lived experience are one of the reasons we believe the Anchor Community Initiative is the right approach to ending youth and young adult homelessness. With young people’s wisdom, we know we can arrive at the right solutions.