Congratulations to the 100-Day Challenge Teams! Changing Lives and Systems

By Jim Theofelis, Executive Director

This week, I had the honor of joining teams from Spokane, Pierce, and King counties to celebrate the conclusion of the 100-Day Challenges – a collaborative effort to connect youth and young adults with stable housing over a period of 100 days. We launched these Challenges in April because we knew that it was an important moment in time – Washington state was paying attention to youth homelessness in a way it never had before. We wanted to channel this momentum and rethink how we support young people who are struggling.

On August 9th and 10th, teams met in Spokane for the Sustainability Review, an opportunity to mark the end of the Challenges and look ahead beyond Day 101 – ensuring the good work that was done will continue to deliver real results for Washington’s youth.

I am so proud of the dedication and courage that the 100-Day team members displayed, and the remarkable local leadership that supported the teams’ work in each region.

Altogether, teams housed 615 young people across the three communities.

  • In Spokane, 109 youth and young adults were connected to housing, with a focus on those who face substantial barriers.
  • In Pierce County, 176 youth and young adults found housing options, many who are disproportionately affected by homelessness, including young people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
  • In King County, 330 youth and young adults were aided in finding housing – the most in any Challenge to date across the country. Seventy-six percent of those housed were young people of color and/or identify as LGBTQ+.

You can find more information and dashboards charting the teams’ progress throughout the 100 days on our website. These data-rich dashboards allowed each team to track progress toward the milestones they set for their region.

When the teams came together to launch the Challenges in April, they intentionally set ambitious goals for how many youth and young adults they could house in 100 days. And they accomplished so much – forever changing the lives of 615 young people in Washington. But beyond the numbers, the core of the Challenges was the tremendous willpower and collaboration of these mission-driven and talented teams.

Here are just some of the top takeaways from the incredible work of our teams:

  • Teams from each of the three communities included young professionals who will become the next generation of system leaders.
  • All three teams brought in the ideas and perspectives of young adults who have experienced homelessness.
  • Each community experimented with new practices or changing policies and practices to remove barriers. Pierce County nonprofits, for example, provided phones to young people so they could be alerted when a bed became available, while also providing a stable mechanism for communication.
  • Communities focused on reaching, engaging, and supporting young people who face some of the hardest barriers, including youth of color and LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth – and they made great progress against this objective.

The teams’ work transformed lives and will go far in learning how to improve systems and processes so that all young people can find their way home.

I spoke with a young woman from King County who had previously found housing, but it was not the best fit, and she was worried about ending up homeless. She engaged with a local Host Home program and was connected with a safe, stable home. In Pierce County, a young man who had been suffering from addiction and mental health issues was aided by peer outreach workers who helped him find safe housing and begin his path to recovery. In Spokane, a young woman was connected to permanent and stable housing after spending much of her life cycling through foster homes and dealing with the effects of verbal and physical abuse (the Spokesman-Review chronicled her story in a recent article).

These stories are only a small sample of the deep and meaningful affect teams had on their communities throughout the Challenges.

In addition to the people and organizations that made up the three teams, these Challenges wouldn’t have been possible without the Rapid Results Institute, who provided coaching and mentorship, and the Raikes Foundation and Schultz Family Foundation, which offered financial support. I can’t thank them enough for believing in our teams and our mission and for being such fierce champions over these 100 days.

Beyond the hundreds of young people who were housed over these 100 days, lessons learned and insight gained during the Challenges will inform the path forward to ensure every young person has a safe and stable place to call home. A Way Home Washington will be sharing more detailed analysis and findings from the 100-Day Challenges later this fall.

Together, we CAN prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in Washington state – and these 100 days proved progress is real and happening across this great state. Let’s continue the momentum so all of Washington’s young people can find their way home.

Challenge Accepted: 100-Day Challenges to Tackle Youth and Young Adult Homelessness

By Jim Theofelis, Executive Director

You may know Washington as the Evergreen state, but when it comes to spirit, entrepreneurship, and dedication to preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness, I say we are the “CAN DO!” state!

On April 18 and 19, A Way Home Washington (AWHWA) was thrilled to convene teams from Spokane, Pierce, and King counties to launch 100-Day Challenges that will accelerate progress toward our ultimate goal: to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in Washington state. The teams carrying this important work include young people with lived experience of homelessness, staff from service provider organizations, local government agencies, and other stakeholders from the three regions.

The expert staff from the Rapid Results Institute (RRI) facilitated and engaged the teams in exercises that raised a new level of awareness and excitement, even for seasoned front line advocates who have been addressing this issue for many years. To set their goals, the teams reviewed local data, policies, and resources. They also heard from the Governor and local leaders who encouraged them to be bold, try new things, and remove barriers – in short, to focus on getting young people indoors and on a path to stability and success.

I was so impressed to watch the teams from Pierce, Spokane, and King counties step up and embrace the hope and promise of the Challenges. Collectively, the three communities set goals to house over 700 young people, with a strong emphasis on ensuring youth and young adults of color and young people who identify as LGBTQ have equitable access to support and services.

Each team has returned to its community, and the 100-day clock began counting down on April 20. Please be sure to check our 100-Day Challenges page for updates on the progress made by each of the three communities.

I want to thank our remarkable funders who are supporting the Challenges, including the Raikes Foundation and the Schultz Family Foundation. I also want to thank Governor Jay Inslee for his support and video remarks at the launch event, as well as other local leaders who expressed their support via video and by sending key staff to participate.

We also appreciated the encouraging remarks offered by A Way Home Washington Co-Chairs First Lady Trudi Inslee and Terry Jackson, a youth advocate with The Mockingbird Society. I was touched to hear Terry say, “At A Way Home Washington there is a saying that you might have heard: ‘yes to yes.’ Jim said it before and I just want to come back to it… Say yes to new ideas, yes to positive change. Be inspired to try new things as you take on new challenges.”

That’s why I was especially grateful for members of the three teams who truly accepted the challenge, worked together in their two-day workshop, and represented their community and our state with pride, hard work, and dedication. And finally, a very special thanks to the young people who were members of the three teams who brought their unique insight, wisdom, and lived experience of homelessness to the discussion and planning efforts.

We don’t expect to end all youth and young adult homelessness in these next 100 days. However, we do expect our talented teams will meet their ambitious goals. And throughout the journey, we will all learn more about the resources, policies, and practices our communities need to make it possible for every youth and young adult to find their way home. Families and young people across our state are counting on us.

You can follow the 100-Day Challenges and show your support by sharing #WAChallengeAccepted on Facebook and Twitter.

A Roadmap to Prevent & End Youth Homelessness in Washington State

Washington’s youth have limitless potential. They’re the future of this state and the heartbeat of our communities. And when they succeed, we all succeed.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances often beyond their control, too many young people have fallen into homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. In Washington state alone, 13,000 unaccompanied youth experience homelessness at some point each year. That’s enough to fill 185 school buses.

And these are Washington residents—78 percent of unaccompanied homeless students began 9th grade in the state.

Working together, we can change this

We envision a future where every family and youth has the individualized support they need so that no young person has to spend a single night without a safe and stable home. In an increasingly polarized political climate, people on both sides of the aisle support this mission.

That’s why, last summer and fall, A Way Home Washington co-chair and Washington state First Lady Trudi Inslee and Executive Director of the Office Homeless Youth Kim Justice, toured the state to learn what youth homelessness looks like in Washington state and how service providers are responding. We learned a lot from that listening tour about what is needed to better serve these young people.

We also were blown away by the spirit of community that exists here. Washington state residents are stepping up—as service providers, volunteers, host home families, school employees, counselors, and more—to lend a helping hand to young people in need. People in Washington state feel a sense of responsibility for their community, and especially for the most vulnerable citizens.

Paving the road ahead   

In order to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington state, we need a roadmap that can help get us there. And while a map serves as a great guide to get us to our destination, we’ll need flexibility to navigate the twists and turns along the way.

That’s why the Office of Homeless Youth released their Prevention & Protection Programs 2016 Report – a roadmap to help communities implement solutions that work for them.

The report synthesizes input and expertise from countless individuals and organizations from communities across the state, both public and private. What’s more, a robust and concentrated effort was made to engage young people who are currently experiencing homelessness to provide the perspective and guidance from those who have lived through this unique and life-changing burden.

This month, A Way Home Washington and the Office of Homeless Youth announced a directive from Governor Jay Inslee and proposed specific actions designed to prevent and end youth homelessness in communities throughout Washington state.

This report lays out the key points and programs that can help us turn the tide on youth homelessness. That includes proposals like elevating the voices of those who have experienced homelessness, to specific policy proposals that can shed more light on the problem—such as a homeless youth liaison for every school.

Together, we can

A Way Home Washington is committed to doing our part as well. We will provide state and local leadership, support and technical assistance to build a coordinated, youth-informed system that values family preservation, emergency response, long-term housing, and support services. We will build a movement to expand a sustainable base of support to ensure all youth are safely housed.

To meet our goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness in our state, we need to work with communities across the state to implement the community-based, local solutions that will meet young people where they are and the circumstances they are in.

We encourage you to read through the report and share with your partners, stakeholders, and friends. Together, we can prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington state.

Ending Youth Homelessness through Cross-Sector Partnerships

By Sarah Hunter and Katie Hong and re-published from The HUDdle, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Official Blog.

A stable home is critical to the development of children and young adults. When they spend their energy wondering where they’ll sleep and what to eat, it’s nearly impossible for them to focus on doing well in school and preparing for their future.

On any given night, more than 45,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults experience homelessness. Yet, youth homelessness is often an invisible problem, as young people are often not in plain sight. Many don’t know where to go to ask for help and many communities lack dedicated youth services. Despite these limitations, philanthropy and federal partners have come together to commit to ending youth and young adult homelessness by 2020.

To accomplish this goal, HUD and its federal partner agencies are joining with several philanthropic organizations, including the Raikes Foundation, to align investments and resources in order to ensure that homelessness among youth and young adults is rare and are brief occurrences.

As part of the Delivering Outcomes for Communities Training, hosted by the Office of Management and Budget and the Partnership for Public Service, HUD and Raikes Foundation colleagues discussed how they developed their partnership, their strategy for ending youth homelessness, and the benefits of government partnering with philanthropy.

By first establishing a common goal, federal and philanthropic partners are working to design and execute a comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness. Experience reducing Veteran homelessness informed the strategy for to end youth homelessness.

Learning from previous success and translating this momentum to ending youth homelessness, federal and philanthropic partners are co-investing in multiple projects to:

  • accurately size the youth homeless population;
  • identify innovative solutions;
  • empower communities to systemically solve the problem; and
  • support the field with the establishment of A Way Home America, to speak with one voice about what actions and resources are needed.

This cross-sector partnership takes advantages of the strengths of all parties involved to advance progress. Philanthropy is often able to be more flexible and nimble than government, allowing them to fund crucial backbone efforts to coordinate stakeholders in the field. While government set the vision through Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness, philanthropy and government partners align investments in meaningful ways and amplify lessons learned about what is working.

HUD understands that the complex issues facing our communities, like youth homelessness, must be addressed through coordinated approaches that facilitate many stakeholders working together. To achieve our common goal, HUD and the Raikes Foundation will continue to work with others to maximize the expertise and resources of a network of partners dedicated to ending youth homelessness in our country.

Sarah Hunter is a Policy Advisor at HUD and Katie Hong is the Director of Youth Homelessness at the Raikes Foundation. This post originally appeared on The HUDdle, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Official Blog at: http://blog.hud.gov/index.php/2017/01/17/youth-homelessness-cross-sector-partnerships/

A Way Home Washington Listening Tour—What We Heard

By Sheila Babb Anderson

A Way Home Washington recently embarked on a listening tour around Washington state to hear from local leaders about the state of youth and young adult homelessness in their communities. Each conversation was led by our honorary co-chair, First Lady Trudi Inslee, and Kim Justice, Executive Director of the Office of Homeless Youth. The conversations included service providers, school officials, housing providers and local leaders. In each stop we asked participants the following questions:

  • What does youth homelessness look like in your community?
  • What is working well to prevent and end youth homelessness?
  • What else do you need to be successful?

In separate conversations, youth with experiences of homelessness were given the opportunity to share their stories and feedback. A Way Home Washington’s youth co-chair, Esco Mustapha, moderated the conversation with young people in Everett, and highlighted how important youth voice is in this work.

Four communities participated in this initial series of listening sessions: Yakima, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Everett. The sessions were hosted by key service providers in each community, who issued the invitations to other individuals and entities working with youth and young adults.

Universal Feedback

While it is clear that each community has its own unique bright spots and challenges, there were a few common things heard in each city:

  • The need for safe spaces for youth under the age of 18. Leaders in each community talked about the challenges assisting unaccompanied youth under 18. Increased shelter options, better relationships with child welfare, and host homes are some of the solutions being considered. Housing options are particularly challenging in rural areas, where provider capacity continues to be a major issue.
  • Lack of affordable housing. Housing shortages in each community are not only driving up the numbers of overall homelessness, but youth homelessness, as well. Youth and young adults are particularly hindered in their search for housing due to lack of credit and rental history, inconsistent employment, or criminal records as a result of their homelessness.
  • Community collaboration is key. Each community highlighted successful partnerships between schools, housing, and workforce partners. However, more is needed to break down silos and foster better collaboration between systems interacting with youth.
  • More can be done to build awareness. Youth homelessness is often hidden and misunderstood. Honest and open conversations are needed to address this problem head-on.

Many other issues were addressed in these discussions, with varying levels of urgency, including:

  • Struggles with mental health and chemical dependency
  • Challenges faced by young parents
  • Relationships with law enforcement and criminalization of homelessness
  • Human trafficking

Four Communities Working on Solutions

Yakima – August 16, 2016
In Yakima, Rod’s House and Yakima Neighborhood Health Services convened the conversation at The Space, a LGBTQ drop in center that opened in June. The Space acts as a hub for services—a key ingredient for success. In addition to The Space, Yakima youth can also use Rod’s House as a central location for referrals to housing, healthcare, job training, and other basic needs.

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services also shared their success with the BESTY House, a new partnership between YNHS, Rod’s House, the South Central Workforce Council and Educational Service District 105. These diverse partners are coming together to provide a supportive living environment for young women transitioning from extended foster care to independent living. This group living situation will provide housing, job coaching and education plans to set these youth on the path to successful adulthood.

Tacoma – August 24, 2016
The Tacoma listening session took place at the Oasis Youth Center, in partnership with Community Youth Services. For over 30 years, the Oasis Youth Center has provided safe spaces for LGBTQ youth in Pierce County. With an estimated 40% of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness identifying as LGBTQ, resources like Oasis will play a critical role in the identification and response to this community.

Community Youth Services, a long time service provider in the South Sound region, is working in partnership with the Tacoma Housing authority to site a new young adult specific housing shelter in Pierce County through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This shelter will house 33 young people, ages 18-24, and provide them with services appropriate to that age group.

Vancouver – September 21, 2016
In Vancouver, Janus Youth Services hosted the community conversation with the City of Vancouver. Janus Youth Services provides youth focused housing and a drop in center in Vancouver, with plans to expand their work to Cowlitz County in the near future.

The Vancouver community also highlighted their school based work around the identification and assistance to homeless families and unaccompanied youth in the Vancouver School District. Their success is centered on family resource coordinators located in schools and will be expanded through a recent grant from the State of Washington under the Homeless Student Stability Act, which passed earlier this year.

Everett – September 22, 2016
The last stop on the tour was hosted by Cocoon House in Everett. As a major youth provider in Snohomish County, Cocoon House has formed strong relationships with the schools and workforce community to get young people on a path out of homelessness through education and employment. According to Workforce Snohomish, 80% of the youth visiting their drop-in center identify as homeless.

This community highlighted the importance of building trust between partners in this work. Service providers and school employees need to work together for quick referrals and interventions. This isn’t the case in every community, but a key element to success.

Each community visited on the listening tour has found ways to respond to the unique strengths and challenges they face. Each community can share lessons around collaboration on housing, schools, employment and other services key to preventing and ending youth homelessness.

A Way Home Washington Announces Jim Theofelis as Executive Director

A Way Home Washington (AWHWA)—a movement to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington state—today announced the hiring of Jim Theofelis as founding executive director. Theofelis brings nearly 40 years of experience serving children, youth and families, including 15 years as the founding director of the Mockingbird Society.

“This is a very special and unique time in our collective effort to ensure every young person has a safe home,” Theofelis said. “A Way Home Washington was born from the unprecedented momentum across our state to addressJim Theofelis in Yakima, WA the expanding crisis of youth and young adult homelessness. Our task now is to ensure every community has the awareness, information and support needed to take action.”

As executive director, Theofelis will work with stakeholders across the state to strengthen and align research, policies, practices and funding to prevent and end homelessness in Washington state. Founded earlier this year, the movement works in concert with national efforts by A Way Home America and public sector leadership by Washington’s Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection (OHY).

Theofelis’ hiring comes on the heels of a statewide listening tour by AWHWA co-chairs Esco Mustapha— a young person who has experienced homelessness—and First Lady Trudi Inslee. Coupled with a recent statewide report on youth homelessness, AWHWA hopes these insights and discussions will complement efforts by OHY as it develops the first statewide plan on the issue.

“Jim is one of the most trusted voices in our state for youth and young adult issues,” said Sonya Campion, President of the Campion Foundation. “We are lucky to have his visionary leadership spearheading this work. His experience is unparalleled and I am confident that we can meet our goal of ending youth homelessness in Washington state under his direction.”

Contact: Jim Theofelis
Jim@awayhomewa.org
206-228-8657

What we know—and don’t know—about youth homelessness in Washington state

If you are like many of us here at A Way Home Washington, you spent July and August soaking up as much of the Rio Olympics as possible. As you were watching, you might have asked yourself, What makes Simone Biles so dominant in gymnastics? Turns out, one reason is that Simone has such a powerful run, she can begin her tumbling passes earlier, giving her more room to flip and twist.

Access to data helps us answer so many questions—not just about our favorite athletes, but also about some of the most urgent issues our society faces. And quality data does more than raise awareness or find answers. It helps point to ways we can better spend our money, focus our time, or allocate resources to save and improve lives.

Think about how you make decisions about the products you buy. You compare reviews, examine the cost and effectiveness of various products, and ask friends about their experiences. With all that data and information combined, you make a well-informed decision for you and your family.

The problem we face here in Washington state is that, for years, we’ve lacked detailed, accurate information about the state of youth homelessness. As a result, thousands of youth are forgotten and left behind. That’s why A Way Home Washington commissioned a landscape analysis of youth homelessness in the state.

The scan focused on five communities: Spokane County, the south sound, Walla Walla County, Yakima County, and a cluster of rural regions across the state. It documented each area’s demographic statistics, available programs for youth, capacity to support and address youth homelessness, and identifiable community needs to expand these programs and services.

Much of the findings are community specific, but there were some common statewide themes:

Youth experiencing homelessness stay local: 86 percent of youth experiencing homelessness access services in the same zip code of their last permanent address.

We must improve social services: 28 percent of youth exiting the foster care system are homeless within 12 months, and that number is 26 percent for youth exiting the juvenile justice system.

Once a young person is housed, they stay that way: Only 2 percent of youth accessing homeless services returned to homelessness from transitional or permanent housing.

It’s clear there’s a lot of work ahead of us to solve youth homelessness, but some of the findings offer encouraging suggestions for how we can approach this work with partners. Several “quick wins”— actions or policy changes that would yield near-immediate, positive results—were identified:

Ensure consistency at school: Make sure students experiencing homelessness keep their Individual Education Plans—developed for each public school child eligible for special education—if they change schools.
Enhance statewide data to inform decision-making: Develop a statewide dashboard to monitor progress against key metrics in youth homelessness, and disaggregate the data by race to ensure that progress is equitable.

Strengthen communication among service providers: Improve communications around licensing for shelters, host homes, and foster care programs, and create relationships between juvenile detention centers and youth housing providers to prevent discharging youth from detention to the streets.

This scan—one of the most complete aggregations of local data to date—makes it clear that while many approaches to ending youth homelessness can and should be tailored to communities. They shouldn’t exist in silos.

There are so many things we still want to learn, though, and that’s why A Way Home Washington is currently on a Listening & Learning Tour across the state. It started August 16, with First Lady Trudi Inslee and Kim Justice, Executive Director of the Washington Office of Homeless Youth, sitting down with youth and community leaders in Yakima. They’ve also stopped in Tacoma, Vancouver, and Everett to learn about common barriers and solutions for ending youth homelessness, and understand what unique challenges exist.

At the conclusion of this tour, we’ll report out what we’ve heard from communities. Combined with the qualitative findings in this scan, we will be able to explore targeted, tailored, and transformational solutions to help end youth homelessness in this state.

If we’re successful, maybe we’ll inspire the next Simone Biles. At the very least, we’ll help the next generation of young people in this state to reach their full potential.