The Time is Right for Systemic Change

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. Previously, Jim shared why the time is right for solutions in Washington. Today, Jim shares why solutions must lead to systemic change.

By now, I’ve made my optimism for ending youth and young adult homelessness clear – I know the time is right for solutions. I also know that our solutions need to truly serve all young people. This means we cannot ignore issues like systemic racism, intergenerational poverty and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Young people and their allies have been ready for decades to create a new system that dismantles these structural inequities, and I believe we have all the pieces in place to make it happen.

The numbers don’t lie – young people of color and young people who identify as LGBTQ+ disproportionately experience homelessness. Though black youth and young adults represent 4% of the population in Washington state, 24% of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are black. And nationwide, about 40% of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+ according to True Colors United.

The truth is, our systems are biased, and they disadvantage and disenfranchise people of color, including youth and young adults. Let’s look at one example: When youth act out in school, the color of their skin can be an indicator of the outcomes they can expect. The same behaviors that get a white young person referred to behavioral health services can mean a disciplinary response, like suspension or even juvenile detention, for a young black person. Systems can put young people of color on a trajectory that ends up in homelessness.

Now, I want to be very clear – this ain’t new. Systemic racism came to our shores centuries ago with the slave ships and the genocide of indigenous peoples. But we do not have to let its ripples continue to rob young people today of the opportunity they deserve. Together, we can stop perpetuating these injustices. We can be innovative and try new solutions that look different from what we’ve done before, solutions that account for each young person’s unique needs.

Systems that were not created with young people of color in mind will not work to keep them safely housed. We need to remember that young people experiencing homelessness are the true experts in preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness. Rather than trying to fit young people into boxes that aren’t quite right, we need to listen to young people and customize services to fit their needs. For example, if a young person who has experienced trauma says they need someone to take them to their appointments and to spend time with them after each session, that is what we should provide them.

I’ve heard all sorts of criticisms of this type of services – “But that’s just enabling young people,” the naysayers protest! We need to remember that even though young people with lived experience are resilient and strong, they still have the same developmental needs as their peers who live with their families. I’m a high school soccer coach, and I think about the support that my players receive from their families. They have parents who drive them to practice, bring them a snack and water bottle, ask them about their days, have dinner and even dessert waiting for them at home. And that’s what every young person deserves: The support of people who care about them.

Jim is a longtime soccer player and coach, and he decorates his office with a quilt his mother made with jerseys from all his teams

 

Youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are expected to navigate housing, counseling, medical and legal systems all on their own. But handing a young person who is asking for help a list of resources isn’t saying “Yes” to that young person. Instead, we should say “Yes, I will take you to your appointment.” “Yes, we can talk about how difficult this is for you.” “Yes, we can stop for a treat to celebrate your courage and determination.” That is the level of support we need to give every young person, whether they have experienced homelessness or not.

I’ve always said for nearly my entire career that systems and policies don’t change lives – relationships do. We need to create an environment where all young people, and especially young people of color and LGBTQ+ young people, feel safe and can develop healthy relationships. An environment where a young person of color knows that they can ask for help and receive help, not disciplinary action. That’s one of the major changes we need to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness: Treating ALL young people as if they were our own. Because they are!

The Time Is Right: Washington Is Ready to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness

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. In this four-part series, Jim shares why he believes Washington state is poised to end youth and young adult homelessness, and what solutions he believes will make the greatest impact. 

During my forty years on the front lines serving youth and young adults, it’s been my stubborn belief in solutions that’s kept me going. I’ve had some sobering moments, like attending the funerals of young people who did not survive the horrors of homelessness, and moments of great hope, like – pardon the repetition – passing the HOPE Act and founding The Mockingbird Society.

The Mockingbird Society Network Representatives Jonathan Hemphill, Avrey Tuttle and Farid Rasuli join Jim to celebrate the 2019 legislative session

 

After all these ups and downs, these past few years launching A Way Home Washington and the Anchor Community Initiative have convinced me that we’re at a unique and promising point in time to end youth and young adult homelessness in Washington. I’ve seen policymakers, service providers, philanthropy, government agencies, business leaders – in short, entire communities – rally around our collective North Star: making sure no young person is forced to sleep outside or in unsafe conditions. And I’ve seen young people’s voices at the center of the movement, advocating for their peers, co-creating initiatives and sharing in decision-making. We’re all on this journey together and ending youth and young adult homelessness is in our reach.

Now, some may say, Jim’s always been a hopeless optimist – he’s not even talking about all the challenges we’re facing! But I’ve learned a thing or two in these forty years, and I know the harsh realities that we’re up against. Cycles of intergenerational poverty keep families from the opportunities and resources they need to provide young people stable homes. Systemic racism pervades every aspect of our society and leads us to fail young people of color, who disproportionately experience homelessness. Discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community leads support networks to turn their backs on LGBTQ+ young people in need.

Yes, these structural issues need to be addressed to create a system where no young person is left without safe, stable housing and a path forward. But these challenges are not new and they’re not unique to Washington state. What is new and unique to Washington state is the widespread commitment to young people from all the key players who need to collaborate on a solution to youth and young adult homelessness. Right now, we have our governor, our legislature, philanthropy and communities around the state aligned around our North Star. Most importantly,  young people with lived experience of homelessness are at the table as decision makers and leaders. These courageous young people are advocating for themselves, their peers and the young children who don’t even know they may one day face homelessness.

I believe in solutions that create systemic, structural and sustainable change. I have every reason to believe that we are rising to the occasion and pursuing these solutions. Over my next few posts, I’ll explain what it means for a solution to create systemic, structural and sustainable change, and share some examples I see of solutions that meet these criteria. Until then, I hope I’ve shared at least a little bit of my optimism with you that together, we will end youth and young adult homelessness.

When a plan comes together

By Jim Theofelis
Executive Director, A Way Home Washington

July is shaping up to be one of the biggest months in A Way Home Washington’s brief history. Our team is coming together, and we are pleased to announce the hiring of Elysa Hovard, Anchor Community project director, and Megan Huckaby, communications manager.

Elysa spent the last nine years working with homeless youth, young adults and their families with Cocoon House in Snohomish County. She started her career on the front lines in direct service, eventually obtaining roles in senior management. She will work alongside the entire Anchor Community team to provide the first four communities the support they need to build a “Yes to Yes” system.

“The Anchor Community Initiative is a revolutionary model and I am thrilled to be working to move this campaign forward so that no youth or young adult has to experience homelessness,” she said.

Megan comes to us from a background in newspapers and higher education communications. Before moving to Seattle, she worked as a communication specialist for Purdue University in Indiana. Megan will lead our public relations and media campaign for the Anchor Community Initiative, as well as maintain A Way Home Washington’s social media channels and website.

“I am excited to be working with A Way Home Washington and am looking forward to all that we can accomplish through the Anchor Community Initiative,” she said.

Elysa and Megan are key leaders on our Team and I look forward to working with both on the Anchor Communities. We are in the process of hiring a Data Manager and a Lead Coach and our Anchor Community Team will be complete.

Speaking of the Anchor Community Initiative, we sent out our request for proposals on July 9! The ball is officially rolling, and we look forward to receiving applications from communities that want to be part of the first cohort of four.

If you are interested in applying to be an Anchor Community, or you would like to know more about A Way Home Washington, follow the links below:

In partnership with the Office of Homeless Youth, local communities, service providers, philanthropy and those with “lived experience” we are building a “Yes to Yes” system in Washington state. When young people say “Yes” I want to come inside, local communities have the resources, capacity and resolve to say “Yes, come inside for safe housing and a path forward.” We believe our work will be a national model for other states to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness. Young people and those who love them are depending on us.

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).

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.

2017 Legislative Session Outcomes

 

Washington state’s 2017 legislative session was complicated by challenging political and fiscal dynamics. Governor Inslee called the Legislature back for three special sessions before members agreed on a state budget, which the Governor signed on June 30th, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown.

Lawmakers were required to adopt a budget that would provide adequate funding for public schools per the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary Decision. To satisfy those expenses, advocates and stakeholders worried that funding for social services would be severely reduced.

Many of our supporters don’t often see what is required to protect existing policies and prevent changes that could put young people and families at risk. For the second year in a row, AWHWA faced major barriers related to differences of opinion about how to best meet the needs of youth (ages 12 through 17) and young adults (ages 18 through 24) who lack safe, stable housing.

AWHWA initially led advocacy efforts to pass HB 1630, which would have improved the quality of data on minors experiencing homelessness by giving them the option to report personally identifying information to the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). However, a key legislator added language in the Senate budget that would have denied youth services if they declined to share their information in HMIS. AWHWA responded quickly and was instrumental in playing defense, but as a consequence, the entire bill died. We also worked hard to protect specialized services for young adults, which were at risk of being combined with the system serving chronically homeless adults.

Despite these challenges and others, the final budget and a slate of new laws took important steps in the right direction.

The budget allocated $3.5 million to the state Office of Homeless Youth to support its programs. Funding will help prevent state systems of care from exiting youth and young adults to homelessness. Budget allocations will also help expand Crisis Residential Center and HOPE Center capacity to meet the immediate needs of youth experiencing homelessness.

Governor Inslee signed HB 1867 into law, which calls for an evaluation of Extended Foster Care and allows young adults to reenter the program once between the ages of 18 and 21. AWHWA and many advocates hope this will help prevent homelessness for young people transitioning out of the foster care system.

In addition, we are encouraged by the passage of HB 1661, which establishes a state Department of Children, Youth, and Families. This new agency will combine the efforts of the former Department of Early Learning, Children’s Administration, Juvenile Justice, and Juvenile Rehabilitation systems. We hope that the culture of innovation and emphasis on prevention fostered within the Department of Early Learning will be sustained in this new effort, supporting children, youth, and families to avoid crisis, housing instability, and homelessness.

AWHWA appreciated the support and dedication of our advocacy partners throughout the 2017 legislative sessions! Together we are working to build a statewide support system so that we can say “Yes!” to young people and families when they say, “Yes, I need help.”

For a more complete look at how AWHWA’s 2017 legislative priorities fared, please see the table below:

2017 Agenda Item

Session Outcome

Ensure that Youth Exiting Public Systems Have a Safe, Stable Place to Go

Establish interagency workgroup on youth homelessness

Accomplished – the interagency workgroup has been created and reports to the Governor

Pass HB 1867 to evaluate Extended Foster Care (EFC) and allow young adults to reenter 1 time

Signed into law on 5/10/17

$776,000 allocated in final budget to support additional EFC participants and fund an evaluation of the EFC program

Pass HB 1816 to improve admission practices for Crisis Residential Centers and HOPE Beds

Signed into law on 5/10/17

Invest in Crisis Intervention and Diversion from Homelessness

Improve and expand family reconciliation (FRS) and preservation (FPS) services

No money allocated in final budget for FRS

$2.616 million allocated in final budget for travel reimbursement for in-home FPS

Reform status offense laws

HB 1170 signed into law on 5/16/17

SB 5293 vetoed by Governor on 5/16/17

SB 5596 did not pass

SB 5563 did not pass

Improve Education and Employment Outcomes for Vulnerable Young People

Pass SB 5241 to improve high school graduation rates

Signed into law on 4/17/17

Fully implement the state Homeless Student Stability Program

Funding maintained

Designate a trained staff person in every public K-12 school to ID, support students experiencing homelessness and housing instability

No developments this session

Expand the Youth Works program

No developments this session

Provide Legal Advocacy for Foster Children and Youth

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

HB 1251 and SB 5363 did not pass

$1.365 million in final budget for demonstration and evaluation

Allocate Sustainable Funding

Move funding for the Office of Homeless Youth to the Dept. of Commerce’s base budget

Accomplished – all OHY funding is now part of the Commerce base budget

$3.5 million allocated in final budget for OHY operations and programs

Pass HB 1570 to renew the Document Recording Fee without adding a future sunset date and restrict percentage spent on for-profit entities

Sunset of the document recording fee extended to 2023

Support Washington Youth and Families Fund

$4 million allocated to the fund

Generate new revenue for state budget

State property taxes raised

Online sales tax collections expanded

No new taxes on income or capital gains

Strengthen Statewide Systems of Care

Pass HB 1630 to improve data quality by allowing minors experiencing homelessness to share personally identifying information

Did not pass

Pass HB 1661 to establish a new Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families

Signed into law on 6/29/17

$6.3 million allocated in the budget

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.

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 Way Home Washington’s Executive Director Speaks with KOMO News Radio

KOMO News Radio spoke with A Way Home Washington’s Executive Director, Jim Theofelis, following Governor Jay Inslee’s directive to create an interagency work group on youth homelessness and release of the Office of Homeless Youth’s 2016 report.

“I think that Washington state is positioned to be a national model in really tackling the issue of youth and young adult homelessness,” Theofelis commented. He continued, “What the Governor did today, and the release of the report from the Office of Homeless Youth Programs, really gives us a roadmap forward and gives us the support we need from the public systems to prevent and end youth homelessness.”

Theofelis also highlighted the unique opportunity the Governor’s interagency work group will afford to prevent state systems of care from discharging youth to the streets. “We want to have a safe bed in every community across the state.”

Courtesy of KOMO News Radio. Interview aired on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.