youth homelessness overview

Every year more than 4.2 million young people, ages 13 to 25, experience homelessness in the United States. Overwhelmingly, they are youth of color and young people who identify as LGBTQ.

We believe that every young person deserves a safe, stable place to call home, and we’re working to make that vision reality. To end youth homelessness, we need to both prevent young people from becoming homeless and respond rapidly, with culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services when a young person becomes unsafe or unsheltered.

We work with our partners to help schools, child welfare services and the juvenile justice system recognize the early warning signs of young people in crisis and prevent homelessness. We also work to ensure the community has the systems and tools in place to respond effectively if young person does find themselves in crisis.

strategy

 

Since 2011, our goal has been to make youth homelessness a rare, brief and one-time occurrence for young people. In 2015, we expanded our efforts from King County, WA to Washington state and the nation. We see our role as a convener and catalyst. We bring together young people who have experienced homelessness, homelessness providers, community organizations and government partners to learn what’s working, share promising practices and drive more resources to youth. 

Our strategy is two-pronged:

1) Prevention and early intervention: Reach at-risk young people and prevent them from ever experiencing homelessness.

2) Rapid response to crisis: If a young person does experience homelessness, ensure the community has the resources and tools to respond rapidly and effectively.

 

Prevention and early intervention

We know that ending youth homelessness starts with prevention and early intervention. Our public schools, child welfare services and juvenile justice system can and should play an important role in preventing youth homelessness. These systems are ideally positioned to identify the early warning signs of young people in crisis and connect them with services that can stabilize their housing situations or home life.

  • Public schools: More than 1.3 million homeless students have been identified in our public schools—on average, there are 14 students experiencing homelessness in each public school across America. With the proper support, teachers and staff can help identify students who are facing crises and connect them to the right supports, such as housing, counseling and/or legal assistance. 
  • Child welfare: The instability of life in the child welfare system often pushes young people into homelessness. With more resources and improved coordination among youth-serving agencies, child welfare, including foster care, can play a crucial role in keeping young people from ever experiencing homelessness. 
  • Juvenile justice: Too many young people cycle between the juvenile justice system and homelessness. Law enforcement, probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges can break this cycle by linking young people to supportive services, such as housing, education and employment opportunities. 

Rapid response to crisis

Even one night on the streets can derail a young person's future. The faster crisis response systems can identify and match a young person with developmentally-appropriate, trauma-informed services, the sooner that young person can get back on a path toward stability. We foster collaboration between a variety of stakeholders so that communities can better understand young people’s needs, align available services and respond quickly to end the crisis of homelessness. 

Partnerships and advocacy

Another essential aspect of our strategy is ensuring that young people who have experienced homelessness are heard and seen by policymakers. We believe that lifting up the voices of those most impacted by homelessness is essential to achieving justice and equity, as well as generating the systemic change we need to end homelessness.

We partner with public and private leaders in Washington state and across the nation to fund community action and raise awareness of the urgency of solving youth homelessness. We also support youth-led advocacy efforts to end homelessness at the local, state and federal level.


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progress

 

We have seen positive momentum to address youth homelessness in our state and across our country. Collectively, we have better data and research, more knowledge about innovative programs and practices, and increased government capacity and commitment to address youth homelessness at the local, state and national levels. The Raikes Foundation is proud to be a contributor to these community-led efforts with support from other foundations, service providers, policymakers and young people. We all recognize that our journey is not finished, but we are on our way to making youth and young adult homelessness a rare, brief and a one-time occurrence. Here are some of our proudest accomplishments to-date.

Supporting a coordinated community response to address youth homelessness in King County

Since 2011, we have been supporting a coordinated community response to address youth homelessness in King County, which got a big boost in 2017 when the county was one of ten communities selected by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency to be a Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) site. The $5.4 million in annual grant making support will allow our region to pilot innovative strategies to address youth homelessness and position King County to effectively end homeless for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness by end of 2020.

Creating the Office of Homeless Youth in Washington state

Along with community partners we helped drive the creation of Washington’s Office of Homeless Youth (OHY), an agency charged with leading statewide efforts to prevent youth homelessness. Since its creation the office has issued a plan to effectively end youth homelessness in the state, helped provider implement best practices for homeless youth and funded efforts to eliminate the practice of discharging youth from public systems into homelessness.

Launching statewide campaign to end youth homelessness in Washington state

Working with other funders, we helped launch A Way Home Washington (AWHWA), a campaign to end youth and young adult homelessness in our state. In 2017, AWHWA worked closely with Rapid Results Institute and the communities in King, Pierce and Spokane to house more than 600 young people as part of a 100-Day Challenge. In the fall of 2018, AWHWA will launch the Anchor Communities Initiative—a project to demonstrate that it is possible effectively end youth homelessness in communities across our state—with the ultimate goal of ending youth homelessness statewide by 2022.

Supporting national efforts to end youth homelessness

In partnership with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a leading research institution on youth and families, we supported Voices of Youth Count, a first-of-its-kind research initiative on the prevalence of youth homelessness nationwide. Using innovative research methods, Chapin Hall’s data provides an in-depth look at how and why youth experience homelessness, where homeless youth are and what strategies we can use to end youth homelessness.

We also supported the launch of A Way Home America (AWHA), an effort that brings together diverse stakeholders nationwide with the shared goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness in the United States.

Supporting efforts to address student homelessness

With the America’s Promise Alliance, Schoolhouse Connection, Civic Enterprises and the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, we supported the launch of the Education Leads Home campaign. The campaign has three goals: Ensure students who experience homeless have equal access to early childhood education by 2026; achieve a 90 percent graduation rate for homeless students by 2030; and reach a 60 percent post-secondary attainment rate for homeless students by 2034.

Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Vulcan Philanthropy and the Campion Foundation, we also supported the creation of School House Washington, an organization that addresses student homelessness in Washington state. As a result of our collective efforts, there are more resources, improved policies and important lessons learned on what we can do to prevent students and their families from experiencing homelessness.

Driving innovation in prevention and crisis response 

  • In King County, we’ve invested in a number of projects to improve the crisis response system and to prevent young people from becoming homeless. We’ve invested in diversion programs that keep at-risk youth housed, as well as in Host Homes, which provide an alternative housing solution for youth who need short-term assistance.
  • We support legal services for youth and young adults which have been shown to be effective in eliminating systemic barriers to stable housing.
  • In Washington state, we co-invested in a three-county project to eliminate the practice of discharging young people from public systems, like foster care or the justice system, into homelessness.

Supporting youth advocacy

We support the Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates for Ending Homelessness program, which trains and supports current and formerly homeless youth to speak publicly and directly with policymakers about the needs of homeless youth. These youth advocates have been critical to advancing local and statewide efforts on youth homelessness.

Supporting equitable outcomes

Not all young people are equally at risk of experiencing homelessness. Overwhelmingly, young people who experience homelessness are LGBTQ, youth of color, or both, and we believe that if we’re going to end youth homelessness, we have to address structural and institutional racism and inequities. We have invested in several efforts to better understand the institutional and structural barriers that hold back marginalized youth including:

  • youth of color needs assessment to better understand the needs of homeless youth of color;
  • School House Washington's work with the Equity in Education Coalition to better identify the needs of students of color experiencing homelessness;
  • national summit with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on racial equity and homelessness, an effort to support communities to explicitly integrate equity in community efforts to address homelessness.

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  • Partner spotlight

    Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

    Baylee’s family became homeless when she was two-years-old. She describes childhood as a time when she “mov[ed] around a lot” between hotels, shelters, friends’ apartments and family members’ homes.

    When Baylee was 11, her mom committed suicide. Baylee entered foster care, where she stayed for two years until the court allowed her to move in with her dad. Once there, she became the target of ongoing conflict and arguments, and increasingly struggled with her mental health, attempting suicide multiple times. Feeling rejected, she left home.

    Baylee first stayed in a hotel with a friend whose family was also homeless, but then moved to an emergency shelter for minors. However, she was turned away after her dad refused to sign the required paperwork. Baylee then began to exchange sex to pay for a hotel room. Not wanting this to continue and afraid of sleeping outside on the streets, she returned to the emergency shelter. They let her in for the night, and the following morning, the shelter convinced Baylee’s father to sign for her to stay.

    Baylee is one of over 200 young people who were interviewed by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago for a series of research-to-impact briefs on understanding and addressing youth homelessness, known as the Voices of Youth Count (VOYC). VOYC is the first-ever national prevalence study of homeless youth, designed to capture the scope and experiences of the population, and develop actionable policy solutions and legislative recommendations based on that data. The results of the study were startling, revealing that approximately one in 10 young adults ages 18-25 and at least one in 30 youth ages 13-17 experiences homelessness each year. 

    VOYC is illustrative of Chapin Hall’s approach, which always includes young people, like Baylee, who are “the subjects” in the research process and in testing conclusions. Said Chapin Hall Director of Communications Marrianne McMullen, “We’re not in an ivory tower or in a lab looking down at people through a microscope. We work hand-in-hand with the people affected by the social issues that we study.”  

    This novel approach wasn’t always widely accepted and initially raised some eyebrows across the field. When Chapin Hall was training young people who were recently homeless to conduct research for VOYC, some in the youth homelessness space were skeptical. “But it worked beautifully,” continued McMullen. “The young people were dependable employees and gathered a lot more information than someone on the outside could have gotten. They know the population, they blend in, the kids trust them, and it leads to more effective research.”

    Another hallmark of Chapin Hall’s research methods is that they’re applied in practice: “We expect our research to affect how practice is carried out and how policies are shaped at the federal, state and city level, and we want that to happen as quickly as possible,” continued McMullen.

    Chapin Hall developed a host of actionable recommendations for legislators, agency administrators, nonprofits, and educators to help them address the youth homelessness crisis, based on the results of VOYC. Those recommendations include funding housing interventions, services, and prevention efforts in accordance with the full scale of youth homelessness in communities, tailoring supports for rural youth experiencing homelessness to account for more limited infrastructure, and building preventative efforts into systems where youth likely to experience homelessness are in public care: child welfare, juvenile justice, and education.

    Chapin Hall emphasizes interventions in schools in particular, where students experiencing homelessness are likely to fall behind and experience a disruption in their education. Chapin Hall has developed strategies for educators and policymakers to intervene, including helping schools to identify at-risk youth before they reach a crisis, creating a single point of contact for students experiencing homelessness to better manage their care, and building partnerships to foster better record sharing so students experience minimal disruption to their education when they switch districts.

    Currently, Chapin Hall is partnering with school systems and local organizations in a small number of U.S. communities – including King County– to adapt, pilot, and evaluate the “Upstream” model. Upstream is the American adaptation of the Australian Geelong Project, which led to significant reductions in the number of adolescents (ages 12-18) entering the local homelessness system and dropping out of school.

    Upstream involves establishing data-driven processes to identify students at risk for homelessness or dropping out of school, and those already experiencing homelessness. The process starts with a screening survey for all students that can be supplemented with routinely collected early warning indicators like chronic absenteeism. If the school notices risks, it can then deliver a flexible case management and counseling approach, linked to a range of resources to meet the needs of the students and their families.

    The youth homelessness crisis won’t be solved overnight – but Chapin Hall is helping to put us on the right track.

     


    Read More

    Partner spotlight

    Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

    Baylee’s family became homeless when she was two-years-old. She describes childhood as a time when she “mov[ed] around a lot” between hotels, shelters, friends’ apartments and family members’ homes.

    When Baylee was 11, her mom committed suicide. Baylee entered foster care, where she stayed for two years until the court allowed her to move in with her dad. Once there, she became the target of ongoing conflict and arguments, and increasingly struggled with her mental health, attempting suicide multiple times. Feeling rejected, she left home.

    Baylee first stayed in a hotel with a friend whose family was also homeless, but then moved to an emergency shelter for minors. However, she was turned away after her dad refused to sign the required paperwork. Baylee then began to exchange sex to pay for a hotel room. Not wanting this to continue and afraid of sleeping outside on the streets, she returned to the emergency shelter. They let her in for the night, and the following morning, the shelter convinced Baylee’s father to sign for her to stay.

    Baylee is one of over 200 young people who were interviewed by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago for a series of research-to-impact briefs on understanding and addressing youth homelessness, known as the Voices of Youth Count (VOYC). VOYC is the first-ever national prevalence study of homeless youth, designed to capture the scope and experiences of the population, and develop actionable policy solutions and legislative recommendations based on that data. The results of the study were startling, revealing that approximately one in 10 young adults ages 18-25 and at least one in 30 youth ages 13-17 experiences homelessness each year. 

    VOYC is illustrative of Chapin Hall’s approach, which always includes young people, like Baylee, who are “the subjects” in the research process and in testing conclusions. Said Chapin Hall Director of Communications Marrianne McMullen, “We’re not in an ivory tower or in a lab looking down at people through a microscope. We work hand-in-hand with the people affected by the social issues that we study.”  

    This novel approach wasn’t always widely accepted and initially raised some eyebrows across the field. When Chapin Hall was training young people who were recently homeless to conduct research for VOYC, some in the youth homelessness space were skeptical. “But it worked beautifully,” continued McMullen. “The young people were dependable employees and gathered a lot more information than someone on the outside could have gotten. They know the population, they blend in, the kids trust them, and it leads to more effective research.”

    Another hallmark of Chapin Hall’s research methods is that they’re applied in practice: “We expect our research to affect how practice is carried out and how policies are shaped at the federal, state and city level, and we want that to happen as quickly as possible,” continued McMullen.

    Chapin Hall developed a host of actionable recommendations for legislators, agency administrators, nonprofits, and educators to help them address the youth homelessness crisis, based on the results of VOYC. Those recommendations include funding housing interventions, services, and prevention efforts in accordance with the full scale of youth homelessness in communities, tailoring supports for rural youth experiencing homelessness to account for more limited infrastructure, and building preventative efforts into systems where youth likely to experience homelessness are in public care: child welfare, juvenile justice, and education.

    Chapin Hall emphasizes interventions in schools in particular, where students experiencing homelessness are likely to fall behind and experience a disruption in their education. Chapin Hall has developed strategies for educators and policymakers to intervene, including helping schools to identify at-risk youth before they reach a crisis, creating a single point of contact for students experiencing homelessness to better manage their care, and building partnerships to foster better record sharing so students experience minimal disruption to their education when they switch districts.

    Currently, Chapin Hall is partnering with school systems and local organizations in a small number of U.S. communities – including King County– to adapt, pilot, and evaluate the “Upstream” model. Upstream is the American adaptation of the Australian Geelong Project, which led to significant reductions in the number of adolescents (ages 12-18) entering the local homelessness system and dropping out of school.

    Upstream involves establishing data-driven processes to identify students at risk for homelessness or dropping out of school, and those already experiencing homelessness. The process starts with a screening survey for all students that can be supplemented with routinely collected early warning indicators like chronic absenteeism. If the school notices risks, it can then deliver a flexible case management and counseling approach, linked to a range of resources to meet the needs of the students and their families.

    The youth homelessness crisis won’t be solved overnight – but Chapin Hall is helping to put us on the right track.

     


    Read More

We can end youth homelessness, and it starts with adults affirming young people’s identities and letting them show us the way.

– Tricia Raikes, Co-Founder, Raikes Foundation

Illustrative Grants

Legal Counsel for Youth and Children

This grant supports LCYC’s Legal Services Partnership for Youth, a program that provides pro bono legal support for young people experiencing homelessness. 

A Way Home Washington

This grant supports A Way Home Washington’s efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington State.

100 Day Challenge Sites

This collection of grants to the Rapid Results Institute, Nexus Youth and Families, YouthCare, the Reach Center, and Spokane Housing Authority facilitated the 100 Day Challenge in Washington state, an initiative to house as many young people as possible in 100 days by piloting innovative solutions. 

Civic Enterprises

This grant supports Civic Enterprises’ work on student homelessness, including research, policy development and analysis, and communications.

The Mockingbird Society

This grant provides ongoing support for the Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness, a leadership development program that engages youth who are currently experiencing or have previously experienced homelessness to engage in efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington State. 

YouthCare, Nexus Youth and Families, Friends of Youth, New Horizons, YMCA

This grant supports a collaborative effort among these five youth service providers to offer flexible funding to more quickly end the crisis of homelessness for young people. The project also supports the development of the Youth Worker’s Institute, skills development training for providers, and peer learning across agencies.