February 18, 2015
Leading, learning and aligning at the NAEH Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness
By Katie Hong
Director, Youth Homelessness

In her recent testimony before the Washington State Legislature, Tricia Raikes emphasized that because youth homelessness isn’t confined by city or county lines, it requires a community-wide solution. That sentiment is timely this week as youth homelessness service providers, funders and advocates from around the country convene at the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. It’s a chance for members of an otherwise disparate community to learn from each other as we take on a problem as complex as youth homelessness.

None of us have the definitive answer, but we each have a piece of it. As the conference kicks off, I’m on the hunt for ideas to help King County answer the following:

How can we better-understand the scope of youth homelessness?

Even in King County, where we conduct the nation’s most extensive point-in-time count of homeless youth, we know our process is far from perfect. Putting aside the complex logistics of canvassing an entire county, youth often don’t want to be counted. In response, our effort has grown in depth and sophistication every year to overcome these challenges and build young people’s trust. As we await the results from the 2015 count, we’re already looking for ways to improve next year’s effort and make the data actionable.

What unique role can funders play in addressing youth homelessness?

I’ll spend the bulk of my day Wednesday at the 2015 Funders Forum on Vulnerable Populations, which is hosted by Funders Together as a precursor to the NAEH conference. I’ve written in the past about the importance of groups like this, which bring together funders to share best practices and identify our unique role in addressing issues. In King County, we’ve assembled a group of private and public funders that meet regularly to align our efforts around youth homelessness. We’re eager to build on that group’s work with input from our peers in other communities.

How can we better-align systems to prevent young people from experiencing homelessness in the first place?

It’s no secret that systems like foster care and juvenile justice too-often serve as pipelines for youth homelessness, but how well do we understand the problem and what can we do about it? Washington state benefits from an extended foster care system that eases the transition into independence for youth aging out of foster care, and the Washington Department of Social and Human Services recently released a groundbreaking study to help us understand homelessness risk factors for foster youth. This is important progress that we plan to build on in King County with lessons from similar efforts around the country.

What innovative new housing models are helping make homelessness a brief experience for the youth who encounter it?

We’ve seen how important it is to match homeless youth with the right type of housing for their situation. Young people experiencing homelessness are different from homeless families and chronically-homeless adults. As a result, they often require housing options that look very different from models that work for families and adults. As our understanding of youth homelessness evolves, so too must our thinking around housing and how it can help launch young people into a stable, supportive environment.   

How can youth themselves contribute to the solution?

The Raikes Foundation is a proud supporter of Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness (YAEH), which empowers formerly-homeless youth to tell their stories and advocate for change. They’ll be speaking at the conference this year, and I’m anxious to hear how other communities are involving youth as a part of their solutions.  The more input we have from young people, the more effective our work will be.

If you’re attending NAEH this year, send me a note on Twitter @KatieHSeattle to share ideas or let me know what you’re hoping to learn from the conference.