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    Serving homeless youth with a continuum of customized care

    King County's new homeless youth Initiative puts a premium on organizing providers, bundling services and personalizing delivery for a youthful clientele.
    YouthCare's Orion Center in Seattle is part of an ecosystem of care for homeless youth.

    YouthCare's Orion Center in Seattle is part of an ecosystem of care for homeless youth. Credit: Allyce Andrew

    “I’m not afraid of sleeping outside,” says the scowling, scruffy young man I'll call Ned. He’s homeless because his girlfriend broke up with him and then kept their apartment for herself. He and I are sitting on a damp bench near a U District church, drinking coffee smuggled out of the church’s Sunday social hour.

    “I’m comfortable outdoors,” he growls. “Lived in the woods after my dad kicked me out. I was seven at the time. He just couldn’t be around kids. My mom divorced him and couldn't take me with her, and after a while he couldn’t stand me anymore, so I had to live out behind the house. He left food for me on the back porch. I stole apples from his trees. I can live anywhere.”

    Ned is 20. He has a slight build, and grimy hands that make him look like he’s been playing in the dirt, but what he's really been up to is planning to get his GED. He’s scored a test-prep manual from Seattle Education Access and signed up there for additional help. I tell him I tutor GED students for free, and when he gives me a sardonic look I add, “But you’re a pretty independent guy.”

    Ned pauses.

    “Yeah,” he says, “independent enough to ask for help when I need it. “What’s your phone number?”

    Next day my mobile rings. It’s Ned. We make a plan to meet at Starbucks for an hour the following afternoon.

    Random encounters with well-meaning adults don’t change the lives of youngsters like Ned. Studies recommend building a research-based continuum of housing and services, and federal funding is now channeled to regions that unite providers into such systems. In King County, the Homeless Youth and Young Adult (YYA) Initiative has joined efforts by the Committee to End Homelessness to turn fragmented homeless programs into well-targeted, economical continuums of care.

    The YYA Initiative's Comprehensive Plan has begun by promoting agency coordination, fostering program improvements, collecting relevant data and, of course, marshaling and directing the funds necessary to drive change (see right sidebar). Treating youth homelessness separately, rather than lumping youngsters in with homeless people of all ages (an approach the county took as recently as 1995), is aimed at meeting the distinctive needs of young people.

    The goal isn't just managing youth homelessness, as if it's OK for kids to live on the streets as long as not too many minors get frostbite. The goal is reducing the causes of YYA homelessness. The most common are domestic crises in which parents give up on their kids or vice-versa; juvenile justice and foster care systems that abandon youth who serve their time or “age out”; and poor medical care for kids with addictions or psychiatric disorders. Related factors are barriers to finishing school, unemployment and a chronic scarcity of shelters and housing.

    A 2020 deadline focuses stakeholders on working with strategic efficiency, even if "ending homelessness" doesn’t mean guaranteeing that nobody will ever camp under a bridge.

    “Some kids will always run away from home,” says Megan Gibbard, project manager for the new Initiative. But when they do, “there will be a response system so that they will not have to spend one night on the streets.”

    What does Ned need, not just to sleep in safety but to become a self-sufficient adult? According to the federal plan – amended in 2012 to sharpen the focus on youth and young adult homelessness – he needs a constellation of services adding up to something like what other kids get from their church, school, team, after-school or summer job, and, of course, their family. (Fifty-six percent of American 18-24-year-olds live with their parents.) Ned needs education, employment training, health care and practice in the adolescent-stage skills and behavior necessary for functioning in society.

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    Posted Mon, Feb 24, 7:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Clean Alley Project is an example of a possible solution that would benefit both the community and homeless youth. Seattle could pilot something along the lines of a Civilian Conservation Corps that would provide a wage and housing in exchange for work that benefits the community. People in Seattle today still enjoy picnic shelters and park roads that were built by CCC workers 80 years ago. Take a look at the UW's map at https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl;=en&msa;=0&msid;=103208095472659592084.00047ea3dadf5732bf2e1≪=47.593199,-122.147369&spn;=0.463067,0.822601&z;=10&source;=embed&dg;=feature to see what the CCC accomplished in two years in King County.

    We have a serious need for park and road maintenance, for cleaning graffiti and trash on the streets, and even for clerical and office support for city departments. We have hundreds of young adults on the street who want a job and a shelter. Why not combine them? Why not shift some of the emergency housing downtown into dormitories for a new CCC program?

    As the young homeless person in the article pointed out, the community then sees that the homeless are part of the community and not a drain on it. They suddenly go from being perceived as people leaching from society to people who are down on their luck but contributing to it.


    Posted Thu, Mar 6, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    I love this idea.


    Posted Mon, Feb 24, 9:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    I have been working with homeless/ marginalize youth and young adults
    for over 20 years both in Seattle, WA (Founding Executive Director of PSKS- Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets) and NYC- Art Specialist at Covenant House Under 21. During those years and most recently at PSKS I had recognized one common denominator and that is that these young people do not want to be a statistic or a number. They want to be recognized as individuals with individual stories and ways to navigate the system which is individual for them. Many of these young people are system resistance.

    During my tenure at PSKS one of the programs we take pride in is "Step beyond" which follows the young person from homelessness to housed to ensure there is not the re-occurance of becoming homeless again. The program is peer driven. Everyone at the table have experienced homelessness including the program coordinator. The success of this program is because you have one another to pull support from. We learned early on transitioning off the streets can be lonely and isolating after years of living on the streets and in squats with friends. The key to success is removing the isolating factors and providing a safe network of peers.

    Elaine Simons, Founding Executive Director of PSKS 1995-2012


    Posted Mon, Feb 24, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ned needs a lecture in personal responsibility and his benefits cut, according to some.


    Posted Mon, Feb 24, 1:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Beyond the intrinsic virtues of the article, it is heartening to see Crosscut pay some occasional to the other government housed on 4th Avenue. Based on the content of this website a reader would never guess that Seattle city government wasn't the only game in town.


    Posted Mon, Feb 24, 8:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Youthcare is getting sloppy with the youth they choose to use for the media. Also what's the ratio of runaway to kicked out youth. When I was out there over 10yrs ago most of us were kicked out we didn't run out. I think it looks like we are paying for kids who didn't want to do their chores. Or a kid "forced to live outside at 7" how likely is that??? There are hundreds of youth out there right now forced out of their homes for being gay or anti-religious. Just sayin'

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