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!

Our July Reading Picks

Here at A Way Home Washington, our staff is always eager to learn. We’re always sharing articles, videos and other resources with each other to broaden our perspectives. Here’s what we’ve been reading and watching this month:

Liz’s Pick: Most Common Language After English and Spanish

The questions we ask when analyzing data and the results we choose to visualize shape the stories we tell. This map shows us the most common languages spoken in each state after English and Spanish, providing a different perspective of the United States. Seeing Navajo and Sioux on the map is a powerful reminder that Native cultures and languages are still an important part of our society. 

Erin’s Pick: Can Power Be Anything But Zero Sum?

For our work to be effective, we know that we need to share power and decision-making with young people with lived experience. In his column, Jeff Raikes – one of our important partners and funders from the Raikes Foundation – reflects on how important it is for people with great privilege and power to use it to give people with lived experience a platform to shape solutions.

Sully’s Pick: The Need for Responsible Storytelling

Young people’s personal stories have a lot of power – both to mobilize the community and to shape how the community sees young people with lived experience. To us, responsible storytelling means that young people choose when, where and how they share their stories.

Elysa’s Pick: When They See Us

Family disruption is one of the root causes of youth and young adult homelessness, and it disproportionately impacts young people of color due to systemic racism. This miniseries, based on the wrongful conviction and incarceration of five black and Latino teenagers, portrays how the judicial system breaks families of color apart.

The A Way Home Washington team is complete

A Way Home Washington is happy to announce that we have hired the final two members of our staff. Timothy Bell will be our Lead Coach and Liz Harding Chao will be our Data Manager.

Tim experienced multiple periods of homelessness throughout his childhood before coming to the attention of the Washington child welfare system. After many years and much struggle, he became an advocate, organizing on behalf of youth and young adults. He worked to promote the voices of youth in the policy-making and implementation process before going back to school for a graduate degree from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

Liz is an award-winning international researcher, originally from Melbourne, Australia. While in Melbourne she worked as a policy adviser for the Victorian State Government’s Department of Economic Development. Liz’s research and teaching focuses on the intersections between human rights, equity and public policy and centers the voices of those most impacted by injustice.

We look forward to Tim and Liz joining us next week and completing our Anchor Community Initiative team.

Please help us give them a warm welcome!

We have numbers: national estimates for youth homelessness in America

By Jim Theofelis, A Way Home Washington

For years, youth homelessness advocacy has been held back by the lack of reliable data showing the true scope of the problem. Without actual numbers, it’s difficult to determine what we definitively need to solve youth homelessness – and it is solvable.

This week, that changed. The University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall released the first results of a long-awaited study called the Voices of Youth Count. This study provides the first ever academically defensible numbers for youth homelessness in America.

With these numbers, A Way Home Washington and our partners in the state and across the country finally have real statistics that we can point to about the pervasive problem of youth and young adult homelessness.

Some of the key findings include:

  • An estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness in our country in a given year. That’s 1 in 10 of 18-25 year-olds and 1 in 30 of 13-17 year-olds.
  • This is equally a rural and an urban problem.
  • Youth of color, pregnant and parenting youth, and LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness at a higher rate

Click here to read more about Voices of Youth Count and see the full report.

The national data confirms what we’ve known on the state level. In Washington, youth and young adults are homeless in every county of the state, with about 13,000 accessing homeless services.

Chapin Hall provides many great national policy recommendations that we will be building on here in Washington with the state’s Office of Homeless Youth and our many partners. The recent 100 Day Challenges have shown us that young people will respond to outreach if a community has quality, safe services available, and that a focus on equity is critical given the disproportionate representation of youth of color and LGBTQ youth.

With the results from this study and the 100 Day Challenges in mind, we will continue to be in touch with news about our policy agenda for the 2018 Legislative Session and other new exciting programs. With your help, we can and will end youth homelessness in Washington.

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.

New 100-Day Challenge Dashboards Provide a First Look at Progress

By Jim Theofelis, Executive Director

A young woman living on the streets in Spokane shared with me recently that most young people experiencing homelessness are trying hard to find stability and safety in their lives. They are not choosing to be homeless, but rather are searching for resources. Over the course of 100 days, three regions in Washington state—including the Spokane area—are working hard and smart to address the barriers that prevent youth and young adults from finding housing.

When Spokane, Pierce, and King counties kicked off the 100-Day Challenges in April, many people couldn’t have imagined the incredible progress their teams would be making across Washington state—from starting conversations and changing systems, to improving the lives of young people in each community.

The King County, Pierce County, and Spokane teams are already changing lives and making a real difference. By helping young people experiencing homelessness find safe and stable housing, local leaders are sending a signal that communities CAN take ownership and turn the tide on youth and young adult homelessness.

At the start of the 100-Day Challenges, on April 20, each team set a specific goal. These challenges were audacious, but attainable. We knew we weren’t going to solve homelessness in 100 days, but we pushed ourselves instead to ask what’s possible and examine how we could do things differently to expedite progress and support and empower our young people.

As we pass the halfway point of the Challenges, we are excited to share initial region-specific and aggregate data from the three teams. Dashboards that provide a snapshot of each team’s goal and progress can be found here, on our 100-Day Challenges page. Currently, these dashboards include data up to Day 50 of the Challenges, and they will be updated periodically through early August.

Each team is putting in the hard work to finish strong, and we anticipate even greater momentum over the remaining weeks. In fact, the Rapid Results Institute—the organization coaching our teams—has found that the first 50 days of other challenges are often spent laying the foundation necessary to accelerate progress over the final 50. I am thrilled about the advancement each team is making toward its numeric challenges. And I’m even more encouraged by the ways in which they are examining—and in some situations actually changing—system policies that remove barriers and get more young people housed more quickly.

We also know that the 100-Day Challenges are about so much more than the work communities are accomplishing over the course of nearly four months. This is really about where we go on Day 101 and thereafter. That’s why we’re excited that conversations are happening about why young people become unstably housed in the first place, and how we can empower them to overcome those experiences. And everyone—at the provider, policy, and public level—is learning that it is possible to prevent and end youth homelessness in our state.

I’m so proud of these three communities for saying “Yes” to their challenges. At A Way Home Washington, we envision a future in which a young person who says, “Yes, I want help finding a safe place to sleep,” or a family that says, “Yes, we want help to keep our teenager safe,” our communities will have the systems and services in place to respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and meet those needs.

These 100-Day Challenges are an important step in that direction, and I hope you’ll continue to support our teams so that ALL youth and young adults in Washington state can find their way home.