Expertise comes in many forms. There’s the kind gained through years of study and research, or the kind sought out through hands-on training. But there’s also the type that’s involuntarily hoisted on us from sometimes-harsh life experiences. Each kind provides unique value, and all are necessary when tackling an issue as complex as homelessness.
That’s why I was so encouraged by the crowd in attendance last night to mark a new step forward in Washington state’s effort to make youth and family homelessness rare, brief and one time. Led by Governor Jay Inslee and First Lady Trudi Inslee, dozens of policymakers, business executives, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders and formerly-homeless youth came together to celebrate our shared commitment to the Washington Youth & Families Fund (WYFF).
The newly-renamed WYFF builds on a decade of success as the Washington Families Fund, which helped lower family homelessness in our state by 35 percent. It accomplished this by embracing an approach similar to our own strategy at the Raikes Foundation—one centered on public-private partnership, collaboration, research and community-wide engagement. As the new name implies, WYFF is now expanding its focus to include youth and young adult (YYA) homelessness, and we couldn’t be more pleased to support it.
Although family and YYA homelessness are distinct in many ways, there are too many common lessons and challenges for us to ignore the benefits of collaboration across the two sub-populations. WYFF provides the aligned funding and focus to help everyone who cares about these issues make lasting changes at both an individual level and a larger systems level. In the end, our goals for families and young people are the same—to provide the stability, safety and opportunity we want for our own children and families. If we succeed, investments in WYFF will be paid back in the form of vital, contributing members of our community.
This potential was embodied last night in a young man named Lamar, who took the stage to share his perspective on youth homelessness. Lamar’s expertise on the topic is of the involuntary kind—it was acquired after he was dropped off at a youth shelter by his aunt soon after moving to Seattle. Lamar saw firsthand how challenging even well-meaning systems can be for homeless youth trying to get back on their feet. Today, Lamar is in safe and stable housing, exploring his passion for computer science, and acting as a voice for homeless youth through Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness (YAEH) program. Thankfully, Lamar and his YAEH colleagues will offer their unique brand of expertise to WYFF’s work.
As Lamar shook hands with Gov. Inslee last night, it was a reminder to me of how far we as a community have come, and how much farther we still need to go together to solve this issue. Hundreds of youth across our state are still unstably housed every night. Each one has boundless potential like Lamar, and it’s our responsibility as a community to empower them to realize it. As a first step, I encourage you to learn more about our community’s effort to prevent and end youth homelessness.
Image courtesy of Building Changes