Becoming a national model

By Jim Theofelis
Executive Director, A Way Home Washington

Washington state is in a unique position to be the first state to reach functional zero toward ending youth and young adult homelessness.

In Washington we call this “Yes to Yes.” When young people say “Yes, I want safe housing and a path forward,” local communities across Washington will be able to say in return, “Yes, come inside!”

Washington has worked hard to be in this position and we are proud to have such incredible service providers who work tirelessly every day supporting youth to exit homelessness. We also are proud of our lawmakers and the Governor’s office who are advancing public policy and budgets that support positive change and stay true to the state commitment that these young people in crisis are “our” youth not “those” youth.  Most importantly we have a strong history of engaging those with lived experience at the table as leaders and subject experts.

During the last legislative session, we saw the passing of SB 6560, which states: “…by December 31, 2020, no unaccompanied youth is discharged from a publicly funded system of care into homelessness.”

This remarkable policy goal is aligned with the full expansion of the Extended Foster Care program, which also was passed during the most recent legislative session. Extended foster care ensures that the child welfare system has a program to ensure no young people age out of foster care into homelessness. Many of us also are still hoping to see Congress extend the age of extended foster care to 24 to align more with the developmental stage of young adulthood.

We are fortunate to have the Office of Homeless Youth, one of the first offices of its kind in any state, and the leadership of Kim Justice. The OHY is critical in bringing all the different conversations together in one place, managing the many different funding streams and setting a high standard of quality care by implementing performance-based contracts. Washington is the only state with an OHY and an organization like A Way Home Washington.

We also have tremendous philanthropic support and partners willing to step up and help. They see that now is the time for big change and are willing to support those changes.

All this combined makes our state poised to become a national model for ending youth and young adult homelessness.

The Anchor Community Initiative (ACI) will be a huge part of this model. The ultimate vision is for 12-15 communities to engage in a collective impact type effort to build the “Yes to Yes” system across our state.  We have secured funding to launch the first cohort of four communities in September 2018.

We are gearing up to select the first four communities that will end youth and young adult homelessness by 2022.

While the first four communities will be important, those waiting for the next cohort will be just as crucial. For our ACI model to work, we will need all the potential communities to work together, learn from each other and be supportive of each other — just what Washington does best!

The communities that are not selected initially will still be critical partners as we are set for cohort two to launch in mid-2019.

We are committed to ending homelessness by looking at many different models, listening to local communities and young people with lived experience and exporting all the knowledge we gain across the state for collective benefit.

There will always be a family or a young person in crisis. The experience of trauma, mental illness and/or addiction is powerful and not easily overcome. For those young people who are saying “Yes, I want support,” Washington state and our local communities can be the beacon of hope that offers them a strong and resounding “Yes” in return.  At least that is our plan in Washington state!  “Yes to Yes!”

Together we are in a prime position to change the future for our young people.

2018 Legislative Session Has Started

January 8th was the start of the 2018 legislative session in Washington. A Way Home Washington (AWHWA) will be a strong leader and an advocate on youth and young adult homelessness in Olympia. We look forward to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass landmark legislation and secure the necessary funding to strengthen families and support young people who are homeless.

The 2018 session is a short one, running just 60 days. In that time period, legislators will face many tough items on their agenda, including passing the capital budget and fully funding public schools. However, we are confident that members will carve out time to consider and pass proposals that will work towards our goal of ending youth homelessness in Washington.

With our partners and the state’s Office of Homeless Youth, we have developed a bold legislative agenda that, if passed, will take substantive steps to help homeless youth across the state. Thanks to the 100-Day Challenges we helped run in Pierce, Spokane, and King Counties, we now have even more on-the-ground knowledge about what it takes to connect youth and young adults to stable housing.

We will continue to update this agenda throughout the course of legislative session. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and please share it widely with your network!

2018 Legislative Agenda

ENSURE THAT ALL YOUTH AND YOUNG ADULTS HAVE A SAFE AND STABLE PLACE TO GO

  • Family in Need of Services (FINS) Petitions: Consolidate and expand existing laws to strengthen families in crisis and make it easier for at-risk youth to acquire temporary shelter while the state evaluates their home living situation.
  • Extended Foster Care (SB 6222 / HB 2330): Expand eligibility so that all 18-21-year-olds have access to safe housing.

STRENGTHEN STATEWIDE SYSTEMS OF CARE

  • Better Data on Youth Homelessness: Allow minors to voluntarily consent to have their data entered into public systems to ensure accurate information that drives the development of policies, services, system evaluation and innovation.

INCREASE FUNDING FOR KEY PROGRAMS THAT SUPPORT HOMELESS YOUTH AND YOUNG ADULTS

  • Family Counseling and Support: Funding for the Office of Homeless Youth to establish programs for families to access counseling and reduce likelihood of runaways and homelessness.
  • Hope Centers, Crisis Residential Centers, and Responsible Living Skills Programs: Increase number of emergency beds across the state.
  • Capital Budget: Pass the capital budget to support projects that serve youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.

All Lead Agenda items support and align with the Office of Homeless Youth’s Strategic Plan.

SUPPORTING AGENDA

  • Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC): Change state law so that minors can not be charged with the crime of prostitution and create safe and innovative treatment programs.
  • of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) Implementation: Support the expansion and implementation of the new state department.

A Way Home Washington also supports the legislative agendas of the Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy (WACHYA), the Child Welfare Advocacy Coalition (CWAC), and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA).

2017 Legislative Agenda

One of A Way Home Washington’s key strategies to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness is to advocate for reforms and public funding at the state level. We see this as an important way to make sure that Washington state has the programs, services, and resources it needs to help all of our young people find their way home.

In 2017, the Washington state legislative session is scheduled to run for 105 days, from January 9 through April 23. Legislators in Olympia face some tough challenges, including a mandate to fully fund basic education in our state. And as ever, political dynamics are bound to present challenges.

However, A Way Home Washington believes that this is a unique point in time for our state to come together and make positive changes. The Office of Homeless Youth has presented its 2016 Report as a roadmap to creating a statewide system of care. Governor and First Lady Inslee have provided their support and leadership to this cause. And a growing group of partners have joined our movement.

Together, we have developed a bold legislative agenda listing our priorities for 2017. This agenda reflects what we’ve been hearing and learning from communities across the state, and our work to develop tailored solutions that meet their unique needs and circumstances.

We will continue to update this agenda throughout the course of the legislative session. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and share it widely with your network.

A Way Home Washington’s 2017 Legislative Agenda
Click here to download a PDF copy

Ensure that Youth Exiting Public Systems Have A Safe, Stable Place To Go

  • Establish an interagency workgroup or Governor’s cabinet on youth homelessness.
  • HB 1867: Evaluate Extended Foster Care.
  • HB 1816: Improve admission practices for youth entering Crisis Residential Centers and HOPE Beds.

Invest In Crisis Intervention and Diversion From Homelessness

  • Improve and expand family reconciliation and preservation services.
  • Reform status offense laws to reduce the number of youth detained for actions like violating curfew and running away.

Improve Education and Employment Outcomes for Vulnerable Young People

  • SB 5241: Improve high school graduation rates by awarding students with partial or full credit for courses completed at a prior school.
  • Support schools to fully implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and ensure accountability.
  • Fully implement the Homeless Student Stability Program to connect older youth and unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness to services and housing.
  • Designate a trained staff person in every K-12 public school building that can identify and support students experiencing housing instability and homelessness.
  • Expand Youth Works.

Provide Legal Advocacy for Foster Children and Youth

  • Appoint attorneys to all children and youth in foster care before their first shelter care hearing.

Allocate Sustainable Funding

  • Move funding for the Office of Homeless Youth to Commerce’s base budget.
  • HB 1570: Renew the Document Recording fee without adding a future sunset date. Restrict the requirement that 45% of funding from the Home Security Fund be spent on rental or leasing payments to for-profit entities. (“Washington Housing Opportunities Act.”)
  • Support the Washington Youth and Families Fund.
  • Generate new revenue for the state budget.

Strengthen Statewide Systems of Care

  • HB 1630: Improve data quality by allowing minors experiencing homelessness to provide written consent to share their personally identifying information.
  • HB 1661: Support the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendation to establish a new Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Three Steps to Help End Youth Homelessness

(The following Op-Ed was authored by Kim Justice and Jim Theofelis and originally published in the Seattle Times February 1, 2017)

On any given night, in every county of our state, many youth and young adults have no family to eat dinner with, no safe place in which to do homework or no bed to sleep in.

“Patricia” lived with her grandmother for most of her adolescence, but due to poverty she became homeless in her late teens. In addition to facing addiction to cope with her struggles, she received a devastating cancer diagnosis. Without a place to live, “Patricia,” now in her early twenties and living in the Yakima-area, had no place to call home.

No young person should go through this alone. The good news is that we can make it better for “Patricia” and the nearly 13,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults (ages 12 to 24) who access homeless support services each year in Washington. The time to act is now.

In our state, momentum is building to prevent and end youth homelessness. King County recently was named one of 10 communities across the country to receive a federal grant to tackle youth homelessness.

At the state level, two new efforts are positioning Washington to become a national leader on this front. The newly formed Office of Homeless Youth, a Department of Commerce effort, is working to understand the unique challenges communities face and to find solutions that work for vulnerable young people.

Recognizing that government can’t do it alone, partners and advocates recently came together to launch A Way Home Washington, a growing movement dedicated to helping communities prevent and end youth homelessness.

Because we can’t identify solutions if we don’t fully understand the problem, A Way Home Washington and the Office of Homeless Youth traveled across the state with First Lady Trudi Inslee to gain a better understanding of the hurdles young people and their communities face.

This contributed to a new Office of Homeless Youth report that highlights three actions we can take now to turn the tide on youth homelessness.

• Ensure youth who are leaving social services have a safe place to go.

In a single year, more than 1,700 young people experienced homelessness after aging out of foster care, exiting a juvenile-justice facility or leaving a chemical-dependency treatment facility. We can prevent this through strategies like supporting foster youth to enroll in Extended Foster Care, ensuring that they remain in safe housing until age 21 and developing comprehensive transition plans to stable housing.

• Invest in crisis intervention and diversion to help prevent homelessness in the first place.

Families should not have to lose their teenager to the streets, foster care or the juvenile-justice system. Early interventions like family reconciliation and mental-health support help families stay together in healthy relationships and tackle underlying causes of homelessness.

• Improve education and employment outcomes.

In just our K-12 public schools, we have nearly 6,000 unaccompanied students, meaning they’re homeless and not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. As lawmakers debate the need to fulfill McCleary and fund public education, we cannot forget those students who do not have a home to return to after the bell rings. We must work with schools to identify these students and connect them to services that support their academic success.

To accomplish these initial steps and more, Gov. Jay Inslee has directed an interagency work group, led by the Office of Homeless Youth, to establish an integrated and consistent statewide approach this spring to preventing and ending youth homelessness.

Every family navigates tough times, but we can’t let any young person slip through the cracks. Washington can both prevent and end youth homelessness here at home and become a model for the nation in finally ensuring every young person has a safe place to call home.

When our young people succeed, we all succeed. That’s why we must continue working together to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington state. For young people like “Patricia” and her family, time is of the essence.

Kim Justice is executive director of the Office of Homeless Youth, Washington State Department of Commerce. Jim Theofelis, a state licensed mental-health and chemical-dependency counselor, is executive director, A Way Home Washington.

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.

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.

Partners in Pierce County

By Trudi Inslee

As a lifelong Washingtonian, I’ve seen time and time again that people in this state come together to solve problems and lend a hand when someone is in need.

I am witnessing this commitment first-hand on a Listening & Learning Tour for A Way Home Washington. We are traveling to communities across the state to learn more about youth homelessness and how we can help communities implement strategies to prevent and end it.

I recently visited partners and community leaders in Pierce County, along with Kim Justice, executive director of our state’s Office of Homeless Youth. We gathered at Oasis Youth Center, a drop-in and support center dedicated to the needs of LGBTQ youth.

We had the opportunity to hear from youth who have experienced homelessness. Their stories are heartbreaking—some of these young people have lacked secure housing for years, been ostracized by family or caregivers beca
use of their sexual or gender identity, or even been forced into prostitution.

But their journeys are also filled with strength, bravery, and in the best cases, a helping hand. Twenty-three
year old Tomica White was homeless for most of her adolescence. She’s relied on recently opened shelter PierceListeningTourSQ3services from Community Youth Services since December 2015. Community Youth Services also works with shelter residents to help them transition to permanent housing. They already helped 33 people find housing, and I was thrilled to learn that Tomica will soon receive the keys to her own apartment.

We know that solutions need to be tailored to represent the unique challenges young people like Tomica face in their hometown. For example, we heard in Pierce County that youth in rural areas—who lack reliable transportation—struggle to access services available in Tacoma. One young man, who volunteers his time to help his peers, sharedthat he once rode his bike from Tacoma to Eatonville to check on a friend who was in an unsafe environment and was unable to make the trip to Tacoma.

We also heard that there is a need for:

  • More services to address youth homelessness—in particular more shelter and day centers that offer hygiene services such as showers;
  • More diversity in host homes so youth can be matched with caregivers who better understand their daily reality; and
  • More integration across sectors so everyone that interacts with youth—at school, day centers, shelters, and other service providers—knows what kind of help is available for young people in need.

We still have work to do. But the progress in Pierce County, and the passion I heard from committed partners and community leaders, leaves me optimistic.

We have two more stops in the Listening & Learning Tour: in Snohomish and Clark Counties. But my hope and Kim’s hope is that our statewide network of partners is strengthened through A Way Home Washington so every partner feels like they have an opportunity to voice their ideas and concerns.

Mrs. Inslee serves as honorary co-chair of A Way Home Washington and is the First Lady of the State of Washington.