“We have a long way to go, but every bit of advocacy that our agencies get involved in helps to change the lives of those who have experienced severe trauma, and they deserve a chance for success.”
Managing Director of Foster Youth
Volunteers of America Eastern WA & Northern Idaho
With May being National Foster Care Month, we are reminded of how youth and young adult homelessness intersects with other systems. The foster care system often intertwines with the youth and young adult homeless systems, creating touchpoints that funnel young people from one system to the next.
At A Way Home Washington, we prioritize looking at bigger systems and their intersection with youth and young adult homelessness, while working in partnership with local communities to address systems gaps. Ensuring that young people do not exit public systems of care into homelessness is a key part of our prevention strategy.
Programs such as the Independent Youth Housing Program (IYHP) are designed to minimize the number of young people exiting foster care into homelessness. According to Sara Mack, Managing Director of Foster Youth at Volunteers of America Eastern WA & Northern Idaho, the program offers young people supportive services and teaches them life skills such as cooking, cleaning, and how to budget and pay rent. Staff in the program also teach young people how to work through renter’s rights and responsibilities. Because the program is helping to stabilize youth exiting foster care, it also serves to prevent young people from experiencing homelessness.
“It is a good bridge for young adults who have not experienced living on their own and want to leave their foster placements,” Sara says.
According to a new report published by DSHS, 17 percent of young people in foster care experience homelessness within 12 months of aging out of the system in Washington. That’s roughly one in six. While that number might seem high, it actually represents a major improvement. Just two years ago, the number of young people exiting foster care into homelessness was a staggering 29 percent.
To that end, our ACI team is working closely with each Anchor Community to ensure that a local representative from the state agency that oversees the foster care system is present at regularly occurring inter-system conversations geared toward finding innovative solutions and bridging systems gaps.
IYHP providers like Sara are also present at those regularly occurring conversations to further ensure that we are closing the pipeline from foster care to youth and young adult homelessness. Not only are they present in conversations at the community level, but each community has stepped up to help change the landscape for Washington to functionally end homelessness for ALL young people.
Despite the progress we’ve seen, we still have quite a way to go to ensure that no young person exits foster care into homelessness.
“I have seen the transformation that Washington State has done for foster youth since 2007 and it has been great to see our state take an interest in changing the system,” Sara says. “We have a long way to go, but every bit of advocacy that our agencies get involved in helps to change the lives of those who have experienced severe trauma, and they deserve a chance for success.”