One thousand — that’s the estimated number of youth and young adults who are without shelter on any given night in King County. Statewide, there are an estimated 13,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 24 without a safe place to call home.
Getting this number to zero may seem an impossible task, but an ambitious new initiative charts a way forward, rejecting the idea that the current homeless crisis is the new normal. In April, A Way Home Washington (AWHWA) launched three 100-Day Challenges to accelerate efforts to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in King, Pierce and Spokane counties.
“When a young person says ‘Yes, I want to come indoors,' we want the community to have the capacity and services in order to say ‘Yes, come indoors,’” says Jim Theofelis, executive director of AWHWA. “Part of why this is so urgent because when you have 10 beds and there are 25 kids in line, you have to walk away from those 15 young people every night.”
These 100-Day Challenges will work to creating better support systems within these communities, with an aim to provide shelter for homeless youth that leads to stable, permanent housing.
In partnership with AWHWA, Rapid Results Institute and the state’s Office of Homeless Youth Program, teams within each community identified goals for their respective counties. King County’s goal is to house 450 young adults in the 100 days. The initiative has a specific goal for LGBTQ youth and youth of color, who are over-represented in the homeless population.
"This challenge means all hands are on deck to find solutions and be as flexible and creative as we can to find things that work to create spaces for 50 more youth every month. We’re working to identify what will help us house more youth until we reach our goal,” says Mark Putnam, executive director of All Home King County. Putnam notes that they are currently sheltering roughly 100 youth a month.
Families can also participate in these 100-day challenges. The first to-do is taking AWHWA’s pledge to help prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in Washington state. This call-to-action asks pledgers to share stories of progress, to create and share solutions, and to push for smart polices that improve the lives of youth and young adults.
Here are specific ways families can help create positive outcomes for homeless youth, according to Theofelis and Putnam:
- Engage: Say hello and take time to talk to youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in your community.
- Educate: Learn about issues surrounding youth and young adult homelessness. A good start is a panel discussion in celebration of the launch of The Seattle Times project “Portraits of Homelessness” on Thursday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at Seattle Central Public Library. Two movies to watch are Time Out of Mind and Gimme Shelter.
- Advocate: Tell your politicians that ending homelessness in our communities, state and country is a priority for you. In Washington State, tell your congress members to support House Bill 1570, which extends services that provide support to homeless people.
- House. This may seem radical but families do it: Make your home a host home. The host home program at the YMCA of Greater Seattle is recruiting families that can host homeless youth. And if you’re a landlord, you can rent a room or a unit to currently homeless youth and young adults.
- Hire: If you’re a business owner, contact social service providers who provide job training programs, like YouthCare, or consider hiring youth experiencing homelessness directly.
- Support: Follow Facing Homelessness on Facebook and support The BLOCK Project, which aims to build and put backyard cottages on Seattle’s single-family lots to house formerly homeless people. Consider hosting a cottage on your property.
The lessons learned during these 100 days will be shared with every community in our state, says Theofelis. “Within the next four years, AWHWA is committed to building a statewide system so every community has capacity they need to take care of young people who say ‘yes’ to coming inside,” says Theofelis.
The 100-day challenge is one of several efforts to end homelessness in our region. Just a week after the challenges were set, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen announced a $30 million donation earmarked for a permanent housing facility that will house roughly 100 low-income and homeless families in Seattle. Perhaps these two initiatives will intersect in the coming days and years. Stay tuned.