Washington State is known for being innovative—some of our home-grown businesses have changed the world—and soon, we could be recognized for another set of innovations: ending youth homelessness.
Washington has an estimated 13,000 young people under the age of 25 who are on their own and unstably housed.
Philanthropic organizations, advocates, and state leaders (including the Campion Advocacy Fund) agreed to do something about this number and created the Office of Homeless Youth in 2014. This game-changing office, created by the Inslee administration is one of the first of its kind to provide statewide coordination of government policies and programs. As we have seen a 26% decline in youth homelessness since its founding, the Office is being watched closely by other states to learn how to replicate our success.
These partners, including Campion, regularly meet to discuss data, potential funding gaps, and how to continue to build upon this effort and the innovative solutions that are working for young people in Washington.
Two such solutions that have shown great results are the Anchor Community Initiative and the Housing Prevention and Diversion Fund (HPDF), the inaugural programs of A Way Home Washington. To be an Anchor Community, the counties must commit to thoughtfully and compassionately connecting with youth of color and youth who are LBGTQIA. They also commit to investigating how systemic racism and homo/transphobia are showing up in their programs and systems.
The increased coordination and investment across 10 pilot Anchor Communities across the state have been paying off with continued reductions in young people facing homelessness.
Why? Because the youth are encouraged tap to this flexible fund for small investments—the average HDPF disbursement is $1,926—that make a huge difference in their lives.
This money is most often used to help with rental assistance, application fees, and housing deposits where just a little additional funding can make a big difference. Seventy-two percent of young people accessing the HPDF are couchsurfing or at imminent risk of losing housing; and of that number, 54% are youth of color.
These fast and flexible funds allow young people in crisis to stay housed or quickly be re-housed. Think about how many young people you know who are not experiencing homelessness and who have supportive families that still need help with these life transition expenses.
Ninety-three percent of young people who accessed the Housing Prevention and Diversion Fund in Walla Walla County are still housed a year later.
The money itself is critical, but even more so is empowering these young individuals to have agency in their lives and to learn to believe in their own capabilities. In several counties, including King and Yakima, Youth Action Boards were created so that the youth being served also have a say in how monies and resources are being allocated.
Innovations like the Office of Homeless Youth and Housing Prevention and Diversion Fund have helped our state make the case that smart investments can help us not only effectively respond to young people experiencing homelessness but prevent them from happening in the first place—and the federal government is taking notice.
This past summer, U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced legislation that builds off the successes in Washington State and will provide significant resources from the federal government to help other communities pilot effective prevention strategies. The Preventing Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Act will help bring together systems that interact with young people (schools, child welfare, the criminal justice system, and behavioral and mental health systems) to identify and coordinate with housing providers to assist youth at risk of homelessness. All of these efforts will be informed by Prevention Councils, comprised of young people with lived experience in local communities, to guide investments and develop effective strategies. This legislation would support a major shift in how the federal government approaches youth homelessness by providing coordinated system responses to get ahead of the issue rather than providing resources after a young person loses their housing.
Senator Murray is leveraging lessons from Washington State to help states across the country match our progress. Washington is at the forefront of this movement of listening to young people experiencing housing instability and innovating new tools to prevent homelessness. We’ve read the studies: 48% of adults who experience chronic homelessness were homeless for the first time before age 25. We can change this. We will change this. Systematically addressing youth homelessness can and will have lasting impacts for our community.
With A Way Home Washington, Washington State is making the case for these groundbreaking policy changes. We have created and continue to improve upon a system that is responsive to the long-term needs of at-risk young people.
We are encouraged by the changes that we see in our state. This shift to prevention is a major step forward for the federal government.
Campion will be right here, advocating for the next step and the next until we reach functional zero.
Our youth deserve it.