June 16, 2017
How free legal services help young people overcome homelessness

This guest blog post was written by Erin Lovell, executive director of Legal Counsel for Youth and Children. 

Like thousands of youth and young adults in King County, Jessica* struggled with homelessness. Unlike many, however, Jessica also has a developmental disability, which put her in an even more vulnerable situation. Her relatives had been investigated several times for taking advantage of her. 

When we, the team at Legal Counsel for Youth and Children (LCYC), first met with Jessica, she not only lacked housing, she was unable to access her social security income and generally did not know what to do with herself day to day. 

An LCYC staff attorney began working with Jessica through our homeless youth pilot project, Legal Services Partnership for Youth (LSPY). Together, Jessica and the attorney advocated for housing and connected Jessica with professional payee services, so Jessica could access her social security funds. 

Jessica now lives in supportive housing, has an income, and is attending school.

LSPY is an 18-month pilot project funded largely thanks to the Raikes Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. LSPY attorneys provide legal advice and representation to youth, ages 12 -24 years, who are or are at risk of experiencing homelessness in King County. The goal is to prevent and reduce youth homelessness in King County. 

LCYC partners with other organizations such as YouthCare, Nexus Youth and Families, and REST (Real Escape from Sex Trade). Our team of attorneys has been busy responding to steady referrals from shelter staff, probation officers, and school partners, such as Tukwila School District and the Seattle World School. 

Through these partnerships we are working to timely engage youth in need of civil legal advocacy by providing onsite intake and collaborating with service providers, educators, and others to identify legal issues, broader systemic problems, and solutions. Our partners provide critical social services and supports to youth and young adults. However, in some instances even the most outstanding case manager will hit a wall and find that the only way to aid a youth through or around a barrier to safety, income, or stable housing is with the assistance of an attorney.

Since services began on July 1, 2016, LCYC has served over 125 homeless youth. Between 20-25 percent of the youth self-identify as LGBTQ; roughly 65 percent of the youth served identified as racial or ethnic minorities; and 15 percent reported English as their second language. Approximately one-third of youth reported having or having had a special educational plan in place through school. For more information on the demographics, family experiences, and systems crossover as to the youth served to-date you can read our 2016 Legal Services Partnership for Youth Report.

Youth homelessness is a complex problem, necessitating multiple innovative and collaborative solutions. Legal advocacy alone is insufficient to ensure the safety and stability of youth struggling with homelessness. However, in collaboration with other resources, legal advocacy has proven to be an essential tool in removing barriers, preventing, reducing, and eliminating homelessness in King County. LCYC’s innovative homeless youth advocacy program was recently chosen by the American Bar Association as a 2017 ABA Homeless Youth Legal Network Model Program Site.  

*Jessica is a fictional name, used to protect the youth’s privacy.