Podcast | How homeless youth services adapted to COVID

The pandemic challenged providers who help young people. But for some organizations, it also spurred innovations.

RoNae Marshall hugs a student

Youth outreach engagement specialist RoNae Marshall hugs high school student Portarette, 17, during an afternoon of youth outreach in Olympia, December 3, 2021. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

When schools closed and the states locked down against COVID-19 in March 2020, employees at organizations serving homeless youth felt a wave of panic. How would they aid students trying to attend remote school from inside a car? Or reach kids quarantining in crowded homes where money for food and rent already was stretched thin?

As COVID-19 upended their usual protocols, some nonprofits saw the tally of homeless youth they served plummet. But for other organizations across the country, the pandemic spurred innovations in how they find and serve a population whose needs were amplified and, in some ways, made more acute because of COVID-19.


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A number of service providers adopted online and telephone-based options for young people to apply for housing, attend support groups and connect with case managers, mental health counselors and doctors. Other groups went in the opposite direction, delivering food and other supplies directly to youth and their families wherever they were sheltered, including in cars and motel rooms. Several organizations around the country also began experimenting with giving cash directly to young people, allowing them to determine how best to meet their own needs.

For the inaugural episode of the Youth Today podcast, producer Sam Leeds tells the story of two providers in one city that responded to the pandemic in very different ways, saw the benefits of doing something new and were forever changed by it.

This podcast is part of an ongoing series on homelessness in Washington state, done in collaboration with Youth Today. It is made possible in part by support from the Raikes Foundation. Youth Today and Crosscut maintain editorial control. You can read a text version of this story here and more from the series here

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