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.
The Raikes Foundation is proud to have played our part in this, but we also recognize the need and opportunity to push further. With the passage of Washington state’s Homeless Youth Act and growing national awareness of the issue, I truly believe that we sit at a historic inflection point in the effort to combat youth homelessness not just in King County, but across our state and nation. As emphasized by the state of emergency declared this week around homelessness in Seattle and King County, capitalizing on this window of opportunity will require a renewed effort that transcends borders and unites sectors. That’s why I’m so excited to share some important staffing and strategic changes in our foundation’s youth homelessness work.
First, I’m thrilled to officially welcome Casey Trupin to the Raikes Foundation as a program officer. Casey is a familiar presence to many of you thanks to his sixteen years of dedicated work as a champion for young people. This includes his most recent role as directing attorney for the Children and Youth Project at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. He comes to this position as an international expert and advocate for at-risk, homeless, and foster children and youth.
Casey’s expertise will be invaluable as we work together to execute the Raikes Foundation’s recently-refreshed strategy on youth homelessness. This strategy aligns with our region’s efforts to make youth homelessness rare, brief and one-time, but also aims to build on the statewide and national momentum around the issue while placing an added emphasis on populations that we know are disproportionately affected by youth homelessness, including LGBTQ youth and youth of color. The foundation’s role will vary across our local, state and national work, but it will all be driven by four focus areas:
- Prevention: The data is clear – there are multiple systems-level opportunities to identify and support young people at risk of experiencing homelessness before they’re forced into crisis. Nearly a quarter of youth experiencing homelessness in King County were in the foster care system, almost half have encountered the juvenile justice system, and virtually all have been or are currently enrolled in school. If adults within these systems are appropriately informed and supported, we can prevent hundreds of young people from ever reaching the homelessness crisis response system. We’ll be working increasingly closely with schools, child welfare, and the juvenile justice system to create and strengthen this safety net.
- Crisis System Performance: In the event that a young person does experience the crisis of homelessness, even one night on the street is too many. We remain committed to supporting our regional leaders to strengthen the crisis response system so that a young person’s homeless experience is brief. This is about more than just the number of available beds, though. Our work has shown that it’s equally important to align funders, empower service providers, use data to understand what’s working for whom, and create the necessary mix of effective programs to match the varying needs of youth who enter the system. All of these elements are needed to quickly move youth to stable housing.
- Education and Employment: For many young people exiting homelessness, education and employment opportunities are the catalyst needed for long-term stability. Just as important, these young people are hungry for these opportunities. More than half of youth experiencing homelessness in King County are actively looking for a job, and ninety-two percent of homeless youth seeking housing in King County last year requested employment and education services. Luckily, progress already made to support opportunity youth (a broader population of young people disconnected from employment and school) has put the beginnings of infrastructure in place to serve homeless youth. We’ll be working closely with the opportunity youth field in our region to bolster their work and connect it with the youth homelessness system.
- Partnerships and Communications: Beyond grantmaking, we recognize the important role philanthropy plays to convene influencers, elevate the voices of youth, and support the alignment needed to generate public will around an issue. We’ve learned a great deal through this work in King County and through collaboration with organizations around the world working on youth homelessness. While we will continue to work deeply in our local community, we also believe that preventing and ending youth homelessness requires statewide and national action. So, we’ll work in targeted ways to capture and share our local knowledge and to learn from others in ways that accelerate our work locally, statewide and nationally. We envision a state where every community is executing against a plan to address youth homelessness, and a nation that sees it as an unacceptable problem requiring action.
As with all of the Raikes Foundation’s work, our youth homelessness strategy will continue to be guided by our desire to play a catalytic role in lasting systems-level change. Equally important, success for our youth homelessness strategy relies more than ever on the inspiring work of our partners and on the voices and action of young people. Along with Tricia, Jeff and our entire Raikes Foundation team, I couldn’t be more excited and proud to embark on the next phase of this journey with all of you. Together, we can make youth homelessness a rare, brief and one-time across the country.