Washington health officials connecting youths and young adults exiting public systems of care to housing

By

Shane Ersland

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Lawmakers discussed efforts to connect youths and young adults who are exiting public systems of care to needed resources and housing during a Senate Human Services Committee meeting Monday.

Kim Justice—executive director of the Office of Homelessness Youth Prevention and Protection at the Department of Commerce—updated senators on data in the “Yes to Yes” report about the unaccompanied youth and young adult homelessness landscape, which was released in February. 

“The scope of this report includes both youth and young adults (ages 12 through 24) who are unaccompanied, which means they are not in the direct care of a parent or guardian, and experiencing housing instability,” Justice said.

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Kiki Serantes, training and engagement director at A Way Home Washington—which helped create the report—said it pulls data from more sources than the first Yes to Yes report, which was published in 2016.

“It was mainly pulling data from the Homeless Management Information System in 2016,” Serantes said. “This pulls data (about) health, homelessness, and social benefits.”

Justice said there has been some positive progress made on the issue since 2016. She said there was a 40 percent decrease in unaccompanied youth and young adult homelessness and housing instability between 2016 and 2022.

“We think there are some key conditions contributing to progress,” Justice said. “We have a very collaborative approach in Washington in addressing youth and young adult homelessness. And that involves young people who are involved and often leading the work.”

Justice also identified public/private partnerships, dedicated offices in state government, community-based initiatives, more resources, innovation, and strong advocacy efforts as key factors contributing to progress.  

The legislature passed Senate Bill 6560 in 2018, Justice noted, which set a goal that the state would ensure that young people exit public systems of care into safe and stable housing, and no youth is discharged into homelessness. 

“We are not there yet,” Justice said. “There’s still progress to be made toward that goal.”

Serantes said the report’s data shows disproportionality for youth of color in the homelessness system. Census data shows that 62 percent of the state population of 10-to 24-year-olds are white, while 38 percent are Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), she said.      

“When we look at the population of young people who (accessed) the homelessness system in 2022, only 43 percent of those folks were white, whereas 57 percent identified as BIPOC. Only about four percent of Washington 10-to 24-year-olds identify as Black or African American, but they make up almost 19 percent of the young people who are experiencing homelessness in our state.”

— Serantes

Shannon Quinn—youth and young adult housing response team manager at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF)—said the department’s Youth and Young Adult Housing Team (YYAHRT) is working to help youth and young adults exit systems of care into safe and stable housing. The program began accepting referrals in August 2023.

“We’re able to accept referrals for youths up to 90 days before or after they exit systems of care,” Quinn said. “In some circumstances we’re meeting with that young person and their support team every week trying to come up with a plan to identify what to do next. And it can take those full 90 days to find a resource, to get somebody into (an) appropriate fit that’s going to meet their needs. And in some instances those young people are still exiting into a shelter.” 

DCYF will try to monitor these young people for up to 12 months after their initial referral so it can continue to check in on them to see how they’re doing, Quinn said. 

“We’re continuing to monitor and provide as much support and resources as we’re able to, while recognizing that their immediate needs sometimes just cannot be met by the available resources because there’s wait lists, (or) because somebody didn’t call them back or they lost their phone or their phone number has changed.”

— Quinn

YYAHRT has received referrals for 66 youths and young adults since August 2023, Quinn said. She recommended the employment of dedicated full-time employees at all DCYF’s partner agencies that engage in YYAHRT work, flexible funding statewide, and upstream prevention through community-based family reconciliation services to ensure the program’s success.

Sheala Anderson is the director of the Housing Stability for Youth in Courts (HSYNC) program at YMCA of Greater Seattle. She said the program is designed to focus on social determinants of health (SDOH), with the aim of preventing the onset or ongoing episodes of homelessness, while strengthening family cohesion when possible. 

This is done through a universal screening process through the court system, Anderson said. Referrals are sent to HSYNC navigators, who operate in all counties that host HSYNC programs (King, Kitsap, Snohomish, Pierce, Okanogan, and Spokane counties). 

“Once a referral is made to the navigator, (they) will set up a meeting with the youth and/or caregivers, if that’s appropriate,” Anderson said. “They complete an intake, which consists of a triage tool which entails questions about their current/previous housing status and family dynamic. The navigator will then provide case management support, while ensuring that connections to the proper services and resources are made.” 

HSYNC has served more than 260 youth and families, Anderson said.  

“Multiple studies have shown that 40 percent of youth in the legal system will experience housing instability, and are more likely to experience disruptions in SDOH, including neighborhood disorganization, violence, and family conflict,” Anderson said.

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