Each year more than 5,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in King County experience homelessness. Since 2011, the Raikes Foundation has worked closely with key partners to change this. When we began our work, we found a community of passionate advocates and experienced service providers poised to take an important step toward a true systems-level response. Together, this community has made significant progress to raise awareness of the issue and align our collective efforts under a regional action plan that’s data-driven and youth-informed.
If you’ve spent any amount of time with me or my Raikes Foundation colleagues, you’ve likely heard us emphasize that youth homelessness is a community-wide issue that demands a community-wide response. It’s an important refrain that reflects our emphasis on collaborative, systems-level solutions. As simple as that saying is, though, I’m regularly intrigued by how much our understanding of it continues to evolve.
I was left with that familiar sense of excitement and intrigue following the most recent Foundations for Youth Success meeting in Toronto. It brought together funders from around Canada and the U.S. to share lessons learned on our mutual interest in preventing and ending youth homelessness. We may work in different geographical areas, but the meeting emphasized more than ever that there is a truly international community of funders and partners working to end youth homelessness. And, as our mantra goes, youth homelessness requires a community-wide response from this community of funders just as much from any geographic one.
I’ve written before about how important it is to truly understand a problem before you can solve it. You need to know its full scope, its causes, its exacerbating factors and its consequences. Unfortunately, youth homelessness is often an invisible and undercounted problem. We’ve been working hard in King County to get a more accurate count of homeless youth in our community and, just as important, a better-understanding of the distinct needs of youth who experience homelessness. This information is helping our community more effectively and efficiently make youth homelessness rare, brief and a one-time occurrence.
Before you can solve a problem, you need to understand it. You need to know its full scope, its causes, its exacerbating factors, and its consequences. This a fundamental reality of social change, but how do you do this for a complex problem that, by its very nature, is hidden from society? That’s the challenge we face each day with youth homelessness as the young people we seek to help often distrust the very systems and individuals in place to support them. And who can blame them after the abuse, neglect and fear most have encountered?