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.

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!

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!

Anchor Communities Receive $4 Million

During the 2019 legislative session, we were overjoyed that the Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) budget included $4 million for the Anchor Community Initiative. Over the past few months, organizations in the Anchor Communities submitted proposals to OHY requesting funding for services in the community. Here’s how these funds will make an impact in each community:

Pierce County

Pierce County will be able to expand their existing outreach team, creating a 24/7 emergency hotline, training staff in diversion and gaining access to coordinated entry. The community will also be able to establish a young adult shelter, which previously had no permanent location.

Spokane

New outreach efforts put forth will be able to more efficiently identify young people experiencing homelessness in the public school system and behavioral health treatment programs and provide resources to quickly house them. Volunteers of America and the City of Spokane will add 10 new units of transitional housing for young adults, including units that provide medium to long-term rental assistance (usually 18 to 24 months) and support services to help young adults develop the independent living skills needed to secure and maintain permanent housing.

Walla Walla

Previously, young people in Walla Walla had access to HOPE beds through Catholic Charities and young adult long-term housing through Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC). Now BMAC will be able to add housing capacity for young adults and create an outreach team to better connect with young people.

Yakima

New funding will allow Rod’s House to open a shelter and increase outreach coverage and drop-in services. Catholic Charities will be able to increase young adult housing and Yakima Neighborhood Health Services will increase LGBTQ+ support services.

We’re excited to see these funds building capacity in Anchor Communities as we continue our work to end youth and young adult homelessness!

Celebrating the Legislative Session Together

The 2019 legislative session gave us many reasons to celebrate. From full funding for the Anchor Community Initiative to ending juvenile detention for non-criminal offenses, the legislature delivered victory after victory for youth and young adults. Our hearts are full, so we decided to spread the cheer with a celebration for the elected officials and youth advocates that made it all possible.

You can watch the full livestream of the celebration here, or enjoy the highlights:

First Lady Trudi Inslee inspired everyone to keep up the good work with a rousing speech. We are truly grateful to have a steadfast advocate in Mrs. Inslee and appreciate all the work she does to keep young people front and center.

“Washington is in a unique position to make a meaningful impact on ending youth and young adult homelessness thanks to programs like the Anchor Community Initiative.”

 

Sarah Spier, from our Spokane Anchor Community, highlighted how important it is for different systems of care to work together.

“The Anchor Community Initiative has helped us come together and use our resources intentionally to create a community where no young person has to live without stable housing.”

 

Roel Williams, Peer Advisor for A Way Home Washington, reiterated the importance of organizations like The Mockingbird Society and A Way Home Washington to give young people the support they need to thrive.

“The Mockingbird Society’s continued push to advocate for bills that positively impact young people and the visionary Anchor Community Initiative are putting us on the path to end youth homelessness.”

 

And finally, we presented awards to key partners who have been instrumental in advocating for youth and young adults.

Representative Chopp, for 20 years of service as Speaker
The Mockingbird Society, for leadership on SB 5290
Laurie Lippold, for her continued advocacy and leadership

 

We can’t end this post without expressing our deep gratitude to each and every one of our supporters. You keep the movement going, and every step we take towards ending youth and young adult homelessness is only possible because of your commitment. Thank you for everything you do!

From all our staff, thank you! Images courtesy of Michael B. Maine.

Session Highlights: Funding and Expanding Services for Youth and Young Adults

The 2019 legislative session included many topics that directly impact our vision of preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness. With so many important issues at stake, the A Way Home Washington team was a constant presence at our state capitol. We brought in our Anchor Community teams for an Advocacy Day and even spent a snow day in Olympia.

Our Executive Director, Jim, and Advocacy Coordinator, Matt

 

We were humbled to see an outpouring of support for young people from partner organizations and legislators, and we are proud of the young people who bravely advocated for their peers. Here’s what we accomplished together in the 2019 legislative session:

  • The Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) was funded at the $8.5 million level. This includes $4 million for the Anchor Community Initiative, our flagship project, and $1.25 million for the Arlington Drive Youth Campus. Anchor Community Initiative funds will be split evenly between Pierce County, Spokane, Yakima and Walla Walla for these communities to invest in services for youth and young adults.
  • The Washington Youth and Families Fund and the Homeless Student Stability Program maintained their base funding of $4 million each. The Homeless Student Stability Program received an additional $157,000. 
  • The Senate passed SB 5290, eliminating juvenile detention for non-criminal offenses, such as truancy and running away. Youth are less likely to come forward and request the services they need when they fear the possibility of detention. Now, youth will be able to request these services without fear.
  • The House passed HB 1657, expanding access to HOPE Center beds and requiring at least two youth representatives on the Office of Homeless Youth Advocacy Committee. This provides youth experiencing homelessness additional service options and fosters a youth-centered approach to our work.

     

    Governor Inslee signs HB 1657

     

    These legislative victories position our state closer to preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness. We are deeply thankful to every person who elevated the issue during the legislative session, especially to all the advocates who showed up at the capitol and all the legislators who did right by our young people. We also want to give a special thank you to  Advocacy Coordinator for the 2019 legislative session, Matt Kanter, who brought innovation and passion to our advocacy efforts. What were your favorite moments from the 2019 legislative session?