In Yakima, collaboration fuels solutions to help end youth homelessness

By Trudi Inslee

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the wonderful city of Yakima to learn more about what youth homelessness looked like in the region, and how they were tackling it. Yakima was the first stop on the A Way Home Washington Listening & Learning Tour—a trek across the state to learn more about youth homelessness in the cities and communities who experience it every day.

We know each community is diverse in its strengths and needs—and, therefore, if we want to truly end youth homelessness, we need local solutions tailored to these unique community circumstances.

Kim Justice, executive director of our state’s Office of Homeless Youth, also joined me in Yakima. Kim is doing incredible work with partners all across the state to launch a strategic plan later this year, which will provide key recommendations to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington state.

As someone who chose to raise my kids in the Yakima Valley, I know how hard working, smart, and caring the people in the region are. That came through in so many ways during this event.A Way Home WA listening tour in Yakima

We first gathered at The Space, a new place for LGBTQ youth to meet and access services hosted by Yakima Neighborhood Health. Up to 40 percent of youth who are homeless self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. As Kim said in an interview with KIMA TV, it is critically important for these young people to have a place to go, especially those who may not find that support in their own home.

Here’s what both Kim and I learned quickly in our discussion with service providers, school leaders, and local policymakers: Yakima has an incredibly collaborative environment of providers. Whether it’s working with churches, local businesses, or the school district, providers have a strong network in place to ensure young people get linked with health, education, and employment support.

However, there is one thing the community still lacks: a range of housing solutions for youth and young adults in the region. Leaving this discussion, Kim and I pledged to take action on steps that A Way Home Washington and the Office of Homeless Youth can take to support Yakima and make this a reality.

We also visited Rod’s House, a drop-in center where youth can receive job preparation, mentorship, and career training support to help them get back on their feet. There, I had the opportunity to meet four brave young people whose stories sounded like they could have come from any one of us. Health issues, unstable jobs, or coming from families already struggling to survive are just a few reasons these young people fell into homelessness.

Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a safety net to fall back on when I came across hard times. Through different circumstances, these young people didn’t have that when they needed it most. We owe it to them and all the young people across the state to ensure one setback or speed bump doesn’t push them into homelessness.

I was honored to meet so many hardworking individuals dedicated to improving the lives of young people in Yakima. I couldn’t have thought of a better kickoff to our Listening & Learning Tour.

Next up, we will visit communities in Pierce, Snohomish, and Clark counties. I look forward to hearing what they will share—and how we can support them.

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