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Matt Davis

Young People and Homelessness

Matt Davis, Homeless Program Specialist, CHHS, 509.625.6815

Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 2:44 p.m.

Young People and Homelessness

Every night, across the nation, thousands of young people experience homelessness or other forms of housing instability without the safety and security of a parent or guardian. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a single night in 2018, 36,361 unaccompanied youth were counted as homeless across the country. Throughout the 2017-18 school year, Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reported that at least 782 unaccompanied students within Spokane County school districts experienced homelessness under the Department of Education definition.

These numbers likely represent an undercount as young people are often not engaged with traditional homeless service programs and tend to congregate in different areas than older individuals experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the kinds of homelessness many young people experience (couch-surfing or otherwise being doubled-up with another household) present many to challenges to accurately assessing this population.

Why youth and young adults become homeless

According to the National Network for Youth, the vast majority of youth do not become homeless by choice.  Many different factors contribute to youth homelessness, including:

  • Family Conflict, Dysfunction, or Rejection:
    • This can include abuse, neglect, a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse or mental health issues, domestic violence, as well as rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
    • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are disproportionately represent among the homeless youth population with some studies showing that up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT.
  • Involvement in Public Systems:
    • Intersections between youth homelessness and involvement in systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice are well documented.
    • This report indicates many young people who have recently exited child welfare or juvenile justice systems come from publicly-paid inpatient behavioral health treatment in Washington.
  • Economic Instability:
    • Many young people first experience homelessness while with their family. Lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and stagnant wages put a significant burden on families to maintain housing stability. Youth may detach from a family unit to lessen this financial burden.
Making a Difference

In 2018, the Spokane City/County Continuum of Care Homeless Youth Leadership Committee joined the Anchor Community Initiative, a statewide movement to end youth and young adult homeless in four communities across the state by 2022. This team represents an unprecedented collaboration between area homeless youth providers; behavioral health treatment providers; Spokane County Juvenile Court Services; the WA State Department of Children, Youth, and Families; public schools; private philanthropy; local government; and young people with lived experience of homelessness. The team in Spokane is working to build out new data reporting infrastructure to better share information between systems, increase collaboration and elevate the voices of young people to achieve better and more equitable outcomes.

For the 2020 Point in Time Count, we are looking to improve our collaboration with public school system and get a more accurate count of student homelessness. Seven sites have been identified across Spokane County near schools most greatly impacted by unaccompanied student homelessness. Young people can participate in the survey, get a free meal and receive a gift card, and get access to key services at each site. Molina Healthcare has generously sponsored the incentives for these events. Additionally, we are setting a goal to create and distribute at least 1,309 “care bags”, comprised of a bottle of water, hat, scarf, gloves, hand warmers, soft granola bar, and travel-size hygiene supplies. These bags provide some very basic need items to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

You Can Help
If you would like to help us reach our goal, you can go to our Amazon Wish List to purchase items needed for creating the care bags.

If You Need Help
There are resources for programs and services supporting young people experiencing homelessness.

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