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.

(Page 2 of 4)

In short, most homeless kids don't need a safety net. They need paths they can take to maturity.

Many programs in our region already combine some essential services for homeless youngsters, such as shelter or housing with pathways to high school degrees or employment. For example, Friends of Youth (FOY) in Kirkland is building new YYA housing, adding 20 beds for a total of 105. YouthBuild teaches FOY kids construction skills, and a subcontractor working on the new facility gives them hands-on experience.

In downtown Seattle YouthCare provides overnight emergency shelter and various job programs including a Farestart course in barista training. The goal is not just to prepare kids for café jobs, but to train them in the daily discipline of showing up on time and doing the work.

A year-old Shelter to Housing partnership between ROOTS Young Adult Shelter and the YMCA, supported by the state’s Department of Commerce, combines housing with employment assistance. The program moves a number of homeless 18-26-year-olds who bed down at ROOTS into apartments scattered throughout the city. They receive rent subsidies in return for following a YMCA regimen of job training, monthly meetings with their case manager and compliance with mental health or addiction programs if they need them. The rent subsidies shrink as their incomes rise. Now, 47 of the 51 young adults accepted into the program are housed and 38 are employed, says YMCA housing director Kristen Brennan.

An innovative jobs program, launched last fall as a pilot, invites young people at the ROOTS shelter to work in the Clean Alley Project (CAP), funded by the city’s department of neighborhoods. Working in small groups supervised by Street Youth Ministries (SYM) and paid a minimum wage, they clean up U District alleys twice a week for three months. They also learn how to write resumes, manage time and navigate conflicts with bosses. Participants who prove job-ready get an interview with PCC Natural Markets. Two young adults on the first team landed part-time jobs after their stint with CAP, and the second CAP team is now up and working.

“When the idea was first launched, I was ‘Who’s going to want to do this?’” says Kate Phillips at SYM, who supervises CAP. “It’s not just unglamorous. It’s dirty.” But none of the participants objected to cleaning up filth around dumpsters or scrubbing away graffiti. One youth told Phillips he was excited because “people will see us in a different light if we’re working.”

“The best-kept secret is that housing isn’t the Number One motivator [for homeless youngsters],” says ROOTS director Kristine Cunningham. Their first priority “is employment, to show they have a place in the world and people who recognize their worth.” A service program, she continues, should “attract them with work, and while they do that, provide housing” so they can be ready for the workplace each morning.

These programs have proven effective, as far as they go. However, King County still has a serious, ongoing shortage of both emergency shelter and transitional homes for youth. The need for housing and shelter could overwhelm the YYA Initiative if its other strategies fail to reduce, and significantly, the size of the homeless youth population.

One Comprehensive Plan priority is adding YYA shelters in South Seattle and South King County, where it’s almost impossible for providers to find emergency services for teens. A new six-bed shelter that the plan helped fund at Auburn Youth Resources fills up instantly, according to program manager Joe Woolley, who says that about 20 Auburn-area kids under 18 are still sleeping rough every night, and that 25 young adults currently live on the riverbanks. The shelter shortage hits homeless Rainier Valley youth really hard, confided another provider. Many don’t dare venture out to more service-rich downtown Seattle for fear of being attacked by fiercely territorial gangs.

Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


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;=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'

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »