Who's At Fault: Why Are So Many Local Kids Homeless?

The Seattle Times editorial board published a series of articles addressing rising youth homelessness — here's what you should know

Lately statistics about homeless children in Seattle have caught my attention. I looked twice when I read that Seattle Public Schools has 2,982 homeless students. I’m glad The Seattle Times writers are sharing a slew of facts about homeless youth now and in the coming weeks. On Sunday, its editorial board ran an investigation titled “Young and Homeless: the invisible children.” During the upcoming days and weeks, editorials, columns and guest commentaries will continue to report on this issue from many angles: kids, parents, foster parents, social workers, state officials and lawmakers.

It’s hard to take in the numbers. But look:

  • “King County has a sizable youth-shelter system, yet turned away at least six kids a night last winter.”
  • Our state’s annual Point in Time count showed more than 4,000 children and young adults are homeless at any given minute and King County tallied more than 800 unaccompanied youths (no parent in sight), yet these numbers are probably low “because homeless kids develop the survival skill of becoming virtually invisible.”
  • “More than a quarter of youths on the street say they’ve traded sex for food or shelter.”

Editorial writer Jonathan Martin spent two months researching this series. He says a story that hit him hard is that of a 14-year-old girl who’d been adopted out of foster care but landed back in the system after the foster parent couple split up. Martin says this girl hasn’t attended school regularly while she fluctuates between living in group homes and on the streets this past year. Recently, she was arrested for public drinking and giving a false name, and people worry about her relationship with an older man, he says. After two weeks in detention, she still hasn’t met her DSHS caseworker and has no idea of what’s next for her, Martin says. “I can’t imagine how deeply that girl felt a sense of abandonment,” he adds. 

The Seattle Times editorial board will be making recommendations for system improvements. Martin believes his October column on host homes is a promising model. “We know that kids run away and become homeless out of adolescent rebellion. But some kids are running for good reason, because they feel it’s not safe or healthy to stay home,” he says. “The system is missing many opportunities to prevent families from fracturing in the first place. Much more attention to 'upstream' preventative programs would be better for the kids, for their parents and for taxpayers.


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