Washington state’s new Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs released $2.5 million in August to organizations throughout the state that serve homeless and unstably housed young people.
The office gave the money to organizations that provide emergency housing, crisis intervention services, outreach to homeless youth, drug and alcohol treatment and other kinds of housing assistance. These programs specifically target young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
The goal is to target five main service areas: stable housing, family reconciliation, healthy relationships with adults, education, employment and social and emotional well-being.
King County received the bulk of the funds, $676,082, of which roughly $240,000 went to YouthCare, a nonprofit organization that provides hope Centers — temporary emergency housing — and street outreach under the grant. That’s about double the next highest, Pierce County, which received $341,275.
The Legislature acknowledged that youth homelessness is a problem statewide when it passed legislation to create the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs in 2015. That followed several years of increases in the homeless youth population reported by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which is in charge of the public school system.
Homeless children are particularly vulnerable to violence, human trafficking and exploitation that can lead to substance abuse, illness and death.
The purpose of the office, which is housed in the Department of Commerce, is to measurably decrease the number of homeless youth and young adults and shorten the length of time that young people experience homelessness.
It has its work cut out for it.
OSPI released new figures in February showing a 9.1 percent increase in the number of homeless students between the 2013–14 and 2014–15 school years, a total of 35,511. The homeless student population is up 62.7 percent from the 2009–10 school year.
King County keeps tabs on its homeless youth population during the One Night Count, a point-in-time count of homelessness that happens once a year in January.
Called “Count Us In,” the procedure incentivizes young people to go into shelter so that they can be counted and receive services, and also sends people out to count unsheltered youth. As of the 2016 count, King County had 824 homeless or unstably housed young people between the ages of 12 and 25. That was the same as the previous year.
Of those counted, 131 were on the street. The rest were in some form of shelter.