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.