A Silver Lining

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. Justice is a lived experience expert working with our Anchor Community Team in Spokane, and this is their story of why they advocate for young people.

When I was 14, I lived with my parents who adopted me from Donetsk, Ukraine and brought me to the United States of America. Once I came to the US, I faced abuse for years and eventually grew tired of it. One night I remember feeling like my fight and drive were running out because I had been struggling for so long. I desperately tried to get help for my siblings and me. I remember feeling continuously disappointed wherever I turned.

I entered the Child Welfare System under the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families when I was a minor. Rosey Thurman, an attorney with TeamChild Spokane took my case and helped me file a Dependency Petition as the sole petitioner. Mrs. Thurman supported me and listened to me. Through this experience, I found my passion for law.

I am one of the many young adults that fell through the cracks of the system. So, in my despair, I turned to writing. It became a passion of mine. Meanwhile, I dreamed that one day I would be somebody that does something to make the system less broken. That’s why I do this advocacy work. I do it so that other youth won’t have to experience the same pain, despair and disappointment that I did.

Justice

There is a silver lining in every situation. You just need to be willing to fight on patiently and look for it. I experienced homelessness once as a minor and three times now as a young adult. And as an individual facing chronic, complex medical issues, I am also experiencing the immense struggle of navigating a healthcare system that is not designed for my mental or physical well-being. However, I am thankful for living through the pain and despair because those experiences have taught me how to better help others who have similar experiences – that is my silver lining.

Since becoming an advocate, I have been passionate about engaging with state departments where I am meant to access services. Beyond my personal needs, my biggest driver for advocating has been to improve the quality of services for youth and families that depend on the system. My long-term goal is to become an attorney, but I recognize that I am already a content expert through my lived experience in the child welfare system and homelessness. I work as a consultant today because I cannot wait until I earn my J.D. through law school to stand up for youth and young adults – like TeamChild did for me.

Here is a poem that I wrote:

Editor’s Note: This poem contains a reference to self-harm.

Don’t Look Back

By: Justice Sun

As life hammers,
You down to the ground,
It feeling as though,
You are sitting in space,
Watching the world pass you by,
Day by day.
You only growing older,
By the second.
Your head spinning,
From one direction to the other.
You feeling all hope,
For you is gone.
Sitting playing with a knife,
Contemplating,
That ugly thought,
To end the life,
That lays before you,
You stand on your two broken feet,
And throw that knife,
Out of bodily reach,
And in return,
Your dreams,
Are in your reach,
You are who you may not want to be,
But,
Don’t look back,
For the old you may be crawling,
Closer to the person,
Who is rising to the sky,
Becoming like a tower,
Running to the person,
With an ugly past,
But a star bright future,
And that is you.

Why I Advocate

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. Roel is a lived experience consultant, and this is his story of why he advocates for young people.

Here’s the thing about working with A Way Home Washington—To me, it doesn’t seem like work at all. It feels like it’s the correct and natural thing for me to do. I’m sure this stems from my background.

For many years I experienced instability that overshadowed many parts of my life, as well as spells of homelessness. I spent many days wondering where I was going that night. I also spent many nights wondering if the safety of day would come. It wasn’t a good feeling. Even still, many youth experiencing homelessness have it way worse than I did. I’ve been so lucky to have good outcomes in situations that look and should be devastating.

Roel

That’s why my work with A Way Home Washington is important. No youth or young adult should have to wonder where they’re going to sleep, shower, and eat so they can recuperate. A lot of people do not know how it feels to really experience homelessness and how it takes a toll on everything about you that is human. It makes obtaining a job difficult. Without a job, housing becomes almost impossible to obtain. If you receive any money it usually goes to food and the essentials necessary to survive. The saddest part of everything is that you spend so much time trying to survive that it becomes impossible to see growth within yourself because you aren’t living your life.

When you must worry about the basics, you can’t begin to think about pursuing anything other than that. School is a distant thought, important things like healthcare get put on the backburner.  After a while, you get stuck in this cycle. Going from shelter to shelter or couch to couch begins to feel normal. You ignore the aches and pains and learn to live by consuming the emergency resources around you. Imagine your heart is always beating fast from adrenaline, hunger getting pushed to the back of your mind, and you are rarely ever sure if you’ll have a safe place to sleep tonight. This is the norm for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.

I believe the work I do with A Way Home Washington helps the system take steps in the right direction. I got lucky with the people in my life. I was lucky to have a good team supporting me. Throughout it all people like Jim Theofelis never gave up on me. They continued to present me with opportunities to pursue my passion of helping to solve the problem of youth and young adult homelessness.

These events that occurred in my life as a result of homelessness are but just a microcosm of what A Way Home Washington and the Anchor Community Initiative have set out to solve. They really “walk the walk” and it reminds me of my early years advocating with The Mockingbird Society.

At different points in my life, both The Mockingbird Society and A Way Home Washington had been a guiding light when I was in dire need of something to hold onto. The work provided a sense of hope. And sometimes that’s all the spark it takes to get the engine going again. It was that for me and I hope it can be for other youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in Washington state. I know my work with A Way Home Washington is helping to reduce and end youth and young adult homelessness, and that is why it’s important to me.

Giving Back to My Community

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. Sunshine is a lived experience expert working with our Anchor Community Team in Yakima, and this is her story of why she advocates for young people.

My past has influenced my future so much. It has also had a significant impact on how I define family. When I was growing up, I didn’t have the guidance and structure I needed to make positive choices. I grew up in the foster care system and was moved around a lot. I was adopted at the age of 6 ½, and by that time, I had lost a lot of trust in people.

I had lost the will to live and move forward at an early age. I felt as if I was worthless and “not good enough.” I began to hate everyone around me. These feelings caused me to make choices that had a significant impact on my life early on and made navigating life harder. Eventually I was sent to a juvenile detention and a residential treatment center for using drugs and alcohol.

It was at that point in my life that I began to feel listened to. When I was with my biological family and adopted family, I felt like they didn’t respect my feelings about things that were important to me. Juvenile was the first time that I felt like I had adults who listened to me. I started making better choices and I started to regain trust in people again. While in the residential treatment center program, I was able to get 3 college credits and work on life skills training. When I graduated from the program, I was ready to show the world what I learned and what I can do!

I moved to Yakima from Arizona, and this is where I was able to show who I really was. I joined leadership groups in high school and showed other students that just because your life isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t make it perfect! I started to have more positive friendships and prove to myself that I could do more than what I was currently doing.

Sunshine

After high school, I accepted a job that I absolutely adore at Rod’s House. With this job, I am able to help the youth that comes through Rod’s House and show them that they are important and special. I am changing lives just as my life was changed and that is my passion. The best part about my job is seeing youth’s accomplishments on a day-to-day basis. I love hearing when youth achieve goals they never thought they would achieve, such as getting back into schools, reconnecting with family, and connecting with other support systems. I love helping our youth feel important and loved.

My day isn’t complete without this work because I love what I do. Whenever I come to work, I am ready to learn new techniques and skills in order to help make a difference. I want to give back to the people who have helped me. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any other youth and that is why I am so passionate about my work. Showing our youth that we care means the world to them and it means the world to me to watch them grow and achieve so much in their own lives.  

I want to give everyone a special thanks for reading my story. I am passionate about what I do and there isn’t any other job in his world I would rather have. I appreciate being able to listen to our youth and help them in any way I can. I love that I can make a difference. All in all I would say that I have gone through a big change, and other people see me differently now.

Our 2020 Legislative Wins

On March 12, the legislative session concluded with many victories for the movement to end youth and young adult homelessness. I’m grateful to our legislative champions who passed all our policy and budget priorities. At a time when people experiencing homelessness, including youth and young adults, are especially vulnerable to a public health crisis, we are reminded that our communities are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. I am confident that these investments and policies will strengthen our state:

  • The state budget includes $500,000 towards the Centralized Diversion Fund, a pool of flexible funds communities can access to help young people cover expenses that lead to securing housing. This is an exciting opportunity to match the funding we have secured from private philanthropy for innovative solutions to prevent and end a young person’s episode of homelessness. We are working with the Office of Homeless Youth and key legislators to ensure this funding is directed toward the Anchor Communities per the intent of the legislature. 
An incredible crew advocating for the Centralized Diversion Fund
  • HB 1175 passed, granting greater protection to commercially sexually exploited children. This bill finally sets in law that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, and effective January 1, 2024 youth under 18 will no longer be charged with prostitution. We have paved the way to create a statewide system that says “yes” to young people who are caught in the nightmare of sexual exploitation. We will continue to advocate for additional funding to provide these young people the full range of supports needed as they heal and return to their communities.
  • HB 2873 passed, re-establishing the family reconciliation services (FRS) program. The program will ensure families have access to culturally relevant early intervention and supports in their communities, effectively strengthening families before they become involved in child welfare, juvenile justice, or homelessness systems.
  • Our state strengthened protections for young people in need of behavioral heath treatment through additional funding and extending the Children’s Mental Health Workgroup. Our 2018 report found that two-thirds of young people experiencing homelessness within a year of exiting a public system of care came from inpatient behavioral health treatment. These investments will ensure that our state is better equipped so that no young person will exit a public system of care to homelessness and strategically prioritizes work to support these young people.
  • The state budget includes $1 million to provide 15 transitional shelter beds for youth 16-17 who are not dependents of the state. Currently, a third of minors who exited HOPE beds had no permanent place to stay within 30 days. This investment will help and close this system gap, reduce the horrible pattern of youth “shelter hopping,” and support finding safe, stable, long-term housing for youth. 

 We’re sincerely appreciative of all the folks around the state who supported and advocated for our legislative agenda. Thank you for every call, email, and tweet to your elected officials, ensuring they kept young people’s needs front of mind. Thank you to partners in our Anchor Communities for travelling to Olympia with us to meet with your elected officials and tell them why these investments and policies are important in your communities.

We are also deeply grateful to our legislators who made these policies and investments possible. Help us thank them via email and tweet and encourage their continued support.

Data to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness

Data is a critical component of the Anchor Community Initiative. Our Data & Evaluation Director, Liz, explains what data communities are collecting and how it will help communities end youth and young adult homelessness and achieve equitable outcomes.

Ending youth and young adult homelessness requires accurate data that tells communities how many young people are experiencing homelessness in real-time, who these young people are, and what their needs are. To achieve this, Anchor Communities have established By-Name Lists and monitor monthly data points that reflect the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults entering and exiting their homeless system.

The Anchor Community Initiative draws inspiration from the Built for Zero model by Community Solutions, which has been effective in ending veteran and chronic homelessness in communities around the nation. To follow this model, communities need to look beyond the performance of projects and programs, and towards the performance of the entire homeless system. This means that each month, communities collect three types of data points:

  • Actively homeless: This encompasses ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness each month. It includes young people who are unsheltered, sheltered and couch-surfing.
  • Outflow: This is the number of young people who exit the system each month. It includes young people who have been housed, young people who providers have not been able to reach in 90 days, and people who have aged out.
  • Inflow: This is the number of young people who enter the system each month, either because they are new to the system or returning to homelessness.

Young people who experience homelessness are individuals with unique identities. Furthermore, young people of color and LGBTQ+ young people experience homelessness at higher rates than their white, cisgender, heterosexual peers. To reflect our commitment to racial and LGBTQ+ equity, we want our data to show young people’s unique identities and shine a light on disparities. We’re pushing our data work further, and we’ve updated our data infrastructure so communities can now submit race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age data. Anchor Communities have access to data dashboards showing these data points and other analytics thanks to software provided by the Tableau Foundation.

Demographic data allows Anchor Communities to further interrogate system performance and set goals around equitable outcomes for young people of color and LGBTQ+ young people. For example, in the data dashboard below we see that in this community, at least 11% of the young people experiencing homelessness in December 2019 are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. However, the sexual orientation of over 60% of young people experiencing homelessness in this community is “unknown.” Being able to see this “unknown” percentage prompts communities and our coaching team to delve deeper into what might be happening on the ground, why these data are missing, and what improvement projects could be implemented to improve data quality.

In order to provide supportive and responsive services and housing for young people, communities must first understand what the needs are. Data provides a foundation for communities to plan and advocate for resources to support young people.

This updated data infrastructure is the first (of many) steps that we will take to achieve more equitable outcomes. The new dashboard allows us to measure improvements and reductions in youth and young adult homelessness as communities are working to make system level changes. Thank you to everyone in the Anchor Communities who works hard to submit monthly data points!

Why We Need a Centralized Diversion Fund

Update: The House and Senate have both included $500,000 towards the Centralized Diversion Fund in their budgets! Please join us in thanking our elected officials for this investment. Email and tweet your legislators here: https://p2a.co/HVFll02

We know that youth and young adult homelessness has many faces. It can look like the high school student who left grandma’s house to couch-surf after grandma couldn’t afford to feed them anymore. Or like the 18-year-old who no longer feels safe staying with their parents after coming out, and just doesn’t have enough money saved up to make a deposit on an apartment. Or even like the 22-year-old parent about to lose their job and rent money because they can’t afford yet another car repair.

If homelessness can look so many ways, our solutions to homelessness need to be just as varied. It just won’t cut it to give a young person a list of resources and hope that their situation fits into the constraints of the system. That’s why A Way Home Washington is establishing the Centralized Diversion Fund. Communities around the state will have access to the fund to help young people obtain the support they need to stay housed, starting with our four Anchor Communities: Pierce County, Spokane, Walla Walla and Yakima. Supporters in these communities agree that we need flexibility and creative solutions to address each young person’s unique needs.

“The Centralized Diversion Fund would be an incredibly powerful platform for increasing collaboration across all organizations and systems that impact young people’s lives,” said Matthew Davis, Homeless Program Specialist for the City of Spokane and lead of our Spokane Anchor Community team. “It would allow us to more efficiently resolve young people’s homelessness by being more immediately responsive to their specific barriers to housing.”

Presenting this project at a Senate work session hosted by Sen. Kuderer

To establish the Centralized Diversion Fund, we need support from across different sectors. Our generous private funders have committed $500,000 to the project, which will set up the infrastructure and supply an initial pool of funds. To ensure its sustained success and scalability, we are asking the state legislature to include another $500,000 for the Centralized Diversion Fund in the 2020 state budget. Our communities and young people have no time to spare to rely on this needed support.

“Young people experiencing homelessness in our community do not have many options for the supportive housing that many really need to reach their potential,” said Joshua Jackson, Executive Director of Rod’s House and the lead of our Yakima Anchor Community team. “Right now, young people often have to wait until they have been repeatedly traumatized, exploited, abused, etc., often for years, before they can get the housing support they need. The Centralized Diversion Fund will help ensure it NEVER happens in the first place.”

On February 21, supporters from around the state will gather at our state capitol to urge elected officials to include these funds in the 2020 state budget. Every email and tweet counts – contact your elected officials and tell them that communities and young people around the state deserve a fully funded Centralized Diversion Fund!

Congratulations, Pierce and Walla Walla!

For the past ten months, our four Anchor Communities have had a singular focus: answering yes to all questions on the Youth and Young Adult By-Name List scorecard and reaching quality, real-time data. In February, two of our Anchor Communities reached exciting milestones: Walla Walla became the first Anchor Community to say yes to all 41 required questions in the scorecard, and Pierce became the third community in the nation to reach quality, real-time data for youth and young adults! This means that at any given time, Pierce County knows how many unaccompanied youth and young adults are experiencing homelessness.

To get where they are today, Pierce and Walla Walla made major systemic changes.  Pierce engaged their local child welfare, juvenile justice and education systems, and they worked closely with young people to learn how to make services more accessible.  The community streamlined the process of identifying young people experiencing homelessness and adding them to the By-Name List by embedding members of their ACT team, a youth and young adult outreach team operated by the REACH Center, across all systems. They also co-created focus groups and surveys with young people, allowing them to confirm what aspects of services are working for young people and to implement changes where needed.

In Walla Walla, the community was able to fund their first ever outreach program with the help of the $1 million secured for Anchor Communities in the state budget. Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) hired two Navigators, enabling the community to reach full outreach coverage. The team also benefitted from the consistent participation of two young adult team members, Charlene and Carla, who held focus groups to gather young people’s input on outreach strategies and the system. Team members also stepped up to fill gaps in capacity, like Coordinator Samantha Jackle filling the role of HMIS data lead, attending trainings and working with the Department of Commerce to learn the skills needed for the task.

We’re so proud of these teams!

Saying yes to all questions on the scorecard puts infrastructure in place to help communities better understand how their systems are serving all young people, especially those who have been historically marginalized. This information is crucial as communities move towards the goal of ending youth and young adult homelessness by 2022.

After completing the scorecard, Anchor Communities keep submitting monthly data on the number of young people who enter, exit and are actively homeless. Data must be balanced for three months to confirm its reliability. Pierce County has reached this milestone, meaning they’ve reached quality data! This means that their data accurately reflects the number of young people experiencing homelessness in real time.

Without a robust data infrastructure, young people can fall through the cracks, particularly if they were not accessing any services. Since data has a significant impact on the future allotment of funding for social services, this lack of clarity has dire consequences. Quality data allows communities to better understand how funding and resources should be allocated, and to identify disparities in outcomes for young people of color and LGBTQ+ young people. It is a critical component of ending homelessness.

Now that Pierce County has reached quality data, they will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions using dashboards designed by our Data & Evaluation Director, Liz, with visualization software from the Tableau Foundation. Data analytics will tell us if a project leads to a reduction in the number of young people who are experiencing homelessness. When data shows that a project has led to a reduction, it is an indicator that the project was effective and that we are moving in the right direction to reach Yes to Yes.

Our 2020 Legislative Priorities

Recently, the CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Nan Roman, shared the three elements she’s observed in communities that have successfully ended homelessness: data, funding, and buy-in from political leadership. Throughout the year, we work hard to make sure communities around the state have all three of these elements. During the legislative session, we are zoned in on securing state funding that goes towards effective solutions and working alongside elected officials who support policies that benefit young people.

Our Advocacy Day in 2019

The 2019 legislative session was full of victories for the movement to end youth and young adult homelessness. The state budget included $8.5 million for the Office of Homeless Youth, which included $4 million for the Anchor Community Initiative. We saw important policy changes, like the end of juvenile detention for status offenses and the requirement that no public system of care discharges young people into homelessness.

In 2020, we return to Olympia to advocate for:

·       The Centralized Diversion Fund (CDF) – Our goal has always been to increase communities’ capacity, so when a young person says “Yes, I need help,” their community can say “Yes, we can help.” The CDF is a flexible fund that organizations around the state can access to help young people stay housed, whether that means helping meet a deposit on an apartment or helping with a car repair to help a young person stay employed and make their rent. To ensure the CDF launches with ample funds to support communities, we will advocate for our legislators to include $500,000 towards the CDF in the state budget.

·       Protecting Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) – Young people in the foster care system make up a high percentage of CSEC. We will advocate for the creation of two receiving centers to help CSEC receive treatment and return to their communities, and to keep youth from facing criminal prostitution charges.

·       Family Reunification Services Program – When families receive the support they need before they become involved in systems like child welfare or juvenile justice, we strengthen families and prevent homelessness. We will advocate for increased capacity and expertise in culturally relevant prevention and early intervention services.

·       Behavioral Health Funding – Our 2018 study found that 1,200 young people experienced homelessness within 12 months of exiting inpatient behavioral health treatment that year. We will advocate for funding to ensure that young people exiting treatment have safe housing and follow-up care.

·       Extending Children’s Mental Health Workgroup (CMHWG) – The CMHWG advises the legislature on improving behavioral health services and strategies for children, youth, young adults and their families. The work group has identified barriers and opportunities to ensure these services are accessible, effective, timely, culturally and linguistically relevant and supported by evidence. The group sunsets in 2020; based on its proven efficacy and leadership we will advocate to extend its lifespan.

In addition, we will keep advocating for the necessary budget to successfully implement the policies passed in 2019. We will also support our partners’ legislative priorities, like the Office of Homeless Youth’s request for housing for minors and The Mockingbird Society’s work to help youth and young adults experiencing homelessness access IDs.

We are deeply appreciative of all our supporters who contacted their elected officials in 2019 and urged them to champion the needs of young people. Sign up to our email alerts to stay up to date on all our advocacy actions!

Our 2019 Highlights

Our Executive Director, Jim Theofelis, has dedicated his life to helping young people, as an advocate, a clinician and a leader in the movement to reform foster care and end youth and young adult homelessness. He reflects on what 2019 meant for A Way Home Washington and the movement to end youth and young adult homelessness.

Throughout the year, the A Way Home Washington staff has been working hard to end youth and young adult homelessness. There are community leaders to meet, data to analyze, communities to coach and press releases to write. As 2019 comes to a close, I took a pause to think about what we’ve accomplished this year. I’m blown away by the dedicated, mission-driven people I am proud to call colleagues and partners. In no particular order, here are my top ten 2019 highlights:

1.       The momentum in the Anchor Communities. A year after we launched the initiative, we hosted update events in each community, and we got to see how much the movement has grown across the state.

From Walla Walla to Yakima, all the community updates were full of energy!

2.       A strong team. Our staff has grown to be nine people strong. I’m humbled to work alongside these bright, passionate and hardworking individuals every day. They keep me sharp!

3.       $8.5 million for the Office of Homeless Youth. We joined the voices of advocates around the state who believe in funding the Office of Homeless Youth. Our advocacy paid off when the state legislature included $8.5 million for OHY in the budget, including $4 million for the Anchor Community Initiative!

4.       The passage of SB 5290. Young people deserve services, not detention. I am in awe of all the courageous young people who advocated to pass this bill, and it was an honor to be in the room when Governor Inslee signed it into law.

We presented an award to The Mockingbird Society for their leadership in advocating for SB 5290

5.       Enhancing our public profile. You may have seen a lot more social media posts, blogs and newsletters from us this year. I’m pleased to see us flexing our communications muscle so that more people can learn about our work. Sign up to our newsletter for monthly updates!

6.       Strong partnerships. The Anchor Community Initiative has rallied communities around a North Star, and efforts like the Host Home Coalition have brought together key players around the state around important issues. I’m proud that we can help bring partners together and lead the charge against youth and young adult homelessness.

7.       Young people’s leadership. I’ve always believed that the perspectives and expertise of young people with lived experience are integral to finding solutions. Young people are part of all our Anchor Community teams because without them, we don’t have a movement.

8.       Funding the Anchor Community Initiative through 2022. Thanks to the generosity of our philanthropic partners, we can sustain the infrastructure of the Anchor Community Initiative through 2022. That means that whenever we receive additional funding from the legislature or donors, we can pour that money right into service in the communities.

9.       Convening our partners. In October we had our annual Anchor Community Initiative convening and State Table. Seeing our partners from around the state in one room, putting our heads together to end youth and young adult homelessness, was a true joy.

Taking a page out of Nonprofit AF and adding a cute animal picture from the picnic!

10.   Picnicking with our furry friends. Even though it was a busy year, it’s important that we find time to rest and recharge our energies. I enjoyed spending a few moments of camaraderie with my colleagues at our summer picnic, and meeting their families of the human and canine varieties!

This work we’re doing, it’ll have a monumental impact on the lives of young people. Sustainable change, the type of change that will last for seven generations, is not easy to achieve. When I think about what it will take to end  youth and young adult homelessness, I think about all the courageous individuals and organizations who have said “Yes” to the work. Thank you for all that you do!

What a Data-Driven Culture Means to Us

At A Way Home Washington, our core values include equity, youth partnership, trauma-informed practice and a data-driven culture. Our Data and Evaluation Director, Liz, writes about how data informs our work at A Way Home Washington.

You don’t count unless you’re counted.” It’s a common refrain in the data community, and for me it gets to the root of why we need data to achieve racial and LGBTQ+ equity. Data gives us the information we need to make informed decisions and to evaluate whether our initiatives are yielding equitable outcomes.

Data is the foundation of the Anchor Community Initiative. It all starts with a question that seems simple: “How many young people are experiencing homelessness in your community?” But we hear from our communities that answering this question is much more complex than it seems. It requires developing new processes to collect and analyze data, updating data infrastructure and building partnerships and protocols across all public systems of care. The first stage of the Anchor Community Initiative is about laying down the groundwork to answer this question in real time.

Liz taking her data expertise to the next level at the 2019 Tableau Conference

But the data work doesn’t stop there. It’s not enough to know how many young people are experiencing homelessness. We also need to know their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity so we can address any disparities in their experiences. Are young people of color experiencing homelessness at higher rates? Are LGBQ young people returning to homelessness at higher rates? Are trans young people spending a longer time experiencing homelessness? Data will help us answer these questions and shine a light on equity issues within our system.

For this work to be effective, we need to ask critical questions of our data. Otherwise, inequities can hide behind the numbers, or a population may be entirely absent from our data set. This was the case at a national data conference I attended last year, where a Continuum of Care presented their data. I noticed that demographic data such as race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity was not included in their data dashboards. When I asked the presenter about it, she said that they had no LGBTQ+ young people showing up in their data. She concluded that the community “didn’t have any LGBTQ+ young people”.

I cannot stress enough that just because a population, or multiple populations, are not showing up in data does not mean that they don’t exist. In our coaching work with Anchor Communities, we are asking constantly asking: Is the data accurate? Is our system counting everyone? Are we collecting data in a respectful and responsive way? The answer to all of these questions needs to be “yes” because the next stage of our work will be using this data to drive towards an equitable end to youth and young adult homelessness.

I’m extremely proud of the work that Anchor Communities are doing to embed a data-driven culture centered on racial and LGBTQ+ equity. Recently, Yakima made the local decision to collect sexual orientation data at youth and young adult Coordinated Entry access points. This change is an excellent example of how starting with data can lead to community-wide culture shifts. Ultimately, these shifts will create safer and more supportive environments for all young people experiencing homelessness, and especially for young people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+.