A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Helping Homeless Youth Realize Their Boundless Promise

A few years ago I was stopped on a freeway off-ramp on my way to a meeting in downtown Seattle.  As I sat there, I noticed a group of homeless people gathered under the overpass.  Then I saw something that shook me.

A few years ago I was stopped on a freeway off-ramp on my way to a meeting in downtown Seattle.  As I sat there, I noticed a group of homeless people gathered under the overpass.  Then I saw something that shook me.

A teenage girl was being led away to a dark corner by two much older men. Her resemblance in age and stature to my youngest daughter took my breath away.  The fear I felt for her was palpable. I also felt intense frustration and anger at all the people in her life that must have let her down.

She’s just a child,” I kept thinking.  How did she end up here?  How will this trauma shape her belief in herself and her hope for the future? How can our community make sure our youth have better options when they are alone and in crisis?

I was powerless to help that girl in that moment. But soon after my husband, Jeff, and I prioritized Raikes Foundation funding to help understand and remedy the problem of youth and young adult homelessness in our region.

We learned that on any given night in our community, about 1,000 young people do not have a safe and stable place to sleep. And in the course of a year, as many as 5,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults experience homelessness in King County.

Last year, the Committee to End Homelessness in King County(CEH) – which includes representatives from nonprofit organizations, business, local government, homeless advocacy groups, the faith community and individuals who are or have been homeless agreed to prioritize the need to develop a differentiated plan to address and end youth and young adult homelessness. There are many reasons a young person might become homeless: They’re unable to resolve an intolerable family conflict; they’re the victims of physical or sexual abuse; they’re rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation; or their families are poor and simply can’t support them.

Working with the United Way of King CountyBuilding Changes, our foundation, and over 100 other private and public partners — including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provider agencies and homeless youth – CEH adopted a blueprint last year called the Priority Action Steps to Prevent and End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in King County.

The plan has three primary goals:

  • Establish prevention and early intervention programs so that young people can either be kept out of the homeless system altogether, or reached quickly with support that truly meets their needs.
  • Develop a coordinated engagement system to harmonize and improve the quality of support for each young homeless person.
  • Improve coordination of data collection and reporting among providers and funders of homeless youth services so we have better information to guide decisions about how to ultimately end youth homelessness.

To date, over $3 million in new funding, primarily from private sources, has been identified to support implementation of the Priority Action Steps.  Collaborating with our CEH partners, the goal is to scale successful models with help from the public sector.

Thanks to these efforts, King County is poised to become a national leader on combatting homelessness among youth and young adults, just as it has been on aiding addressing chronically homeless adults and, with leadership from the Gates Foundation, ending homelessness for families.

Still, given that homelessness has become such a pervasive and seemingly intractable challenge, some might question whether these efforts are worthwhile.

First, the economic case is compelling.  Among homeless adults, 35 percent first experienced homelessness between the ages of 12-24.   The longer a young person is homeless, the more difficulty she will have getting back on a successful track and exiting the homeless system.  So it makes good financial sense to invest early and prevent the cycle of homelessness before it starts.

Second, it is the right thing to do.  Homeless youth are human beings with most of their lives still ahead of them. Like all children, they have boundless promise.  Or rather, they have promise that is bounded only by our ability to help them find their way.

We and our partners believe it is right to aim higher for homeless youth.  We want to take them beyond mere stability, to happiness and success — to the goals that all adults have for the children in their care.

We are proud to be a part of the great work happening in King County, and we look forward to aiming and climbing higher together.

tricia_raikes.jpgTricia Raikes is co-founder of the Raikes Foundation. Its mission is to act as a catalyst for innovative, collaborative, and pragmatic solutions to help young people reach their full potential.

This post is based on a keynote speech that Tricia Raikes delivered to the Legislative Breakfast of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County on January 9, 2012.


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-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

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-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

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Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

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