YouthCare’s mission is to end youth homelessness and to ensure that young people are valued for who they are and empowered to achieve their potential. Fulfilling our mission requires committing to anti-racism—to removing barriers, to centering equity, and to dismantling the systems of oppression that push young people, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth, into homelessness.
We must understand the root causes of homelessness to undo them. Homelessness is not a natural phenomenon: it’s a social product. It’s the product of a history rooted in the genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of Black people and perpetuated over centuries through institutionalized racism. It’s the product of a 40-year divestment in housing and social services and an investment in mass incarceration targeting Black and Brown communities. It’s the product of tax policies that privilege the wealthy and punish the poor.
While BIPOC communities disproportionately experience homelessness, the racial disparities are highest among Black and Native American communities, whose land—and right to own land—has been systemically stolen and denied. Approximately 90% of the Indigenous populations in the Americas died from disease and violence brought by colonization, and since the late 1800s, Native Americans in the U.S have lost over two-thirds of their land through U.S. policy. This includes the Duwamish land that YouthCare sits on. Moreover, for more than two centuries, Black people were not only denied the right to property ownership—they were property. For the following century, redlining and racially restrictive covenants continued to deny Black people access to housing.
The consequences of those policies persist today. In some cases, they’ve gotten worse. For example, the American Indian/Alaska Native community suffers the highest rates of homelessness in King County proportionately, accounting for just 1% of the general population but 15% of the homeless population. And between 1970 and 2017, the number of Black households who owned their home in King County almost halved, declining from 49% to 28%. Pervasive anti-Black discrimination across all sectors of society—from the job market, to healthcare, to the criminal legal system—create additional barriers for Black people in obtaining employment, building wealth, and accessing housing.
Youth homelessness rates also reflect these racial disparities. In King County’s 2020 Point in Time Count, 21% of the youth homeless population identified as Black, 21% identified as Native American, and 28% identified as Latinx, despite accounting for 8%, 1%, and 15% of the overall youth population in the county, respectively. Institutionalized racism within the overlapping systems that touch young people’s lives—education, child welfare, and juvenile detention—disproportionally push youth of color into a pipeline of homelessness.
- Youth who leave the education system without a high school diploma or GED are four and a half times more likely to experience homelessness than their peers who completed high school. In 2018, six out of ten students experiencing homelessness in Washington State were BIPOC youth, and a little over half of students experiencing homelessness graduated on time. Students experiencing homelessness were also twice as likely to get suspended, with and Black and Native American homeless students suspended at the highest rates (14% and 13% respectively).
- Approximately one-third of youth experiencing homelessness in King County have previous involvement in the child welfare system. Of the almost 9,000 youth in Washington’s foster care system in 2017, Black youth were 2.2 times more likely to be in foster care, and Native American youth were almost three times more likely to be in foster care.
- Almost half of youth experiencing homelessness have had previously involvement in the juvenile criminal legal system. In 2018, BIPOC youth accounted for half the admissions to detention in Washington State.
YouthCare commits to naming and actively working to dismantle the systems of oppression that push young people into homelessness. We commit to using an intersectional lens, recognizing that all forms of oppression—from institutionalized racism, structural poverty, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, and xenophobia—overlap and compound barriers that disproportionately lead to homelessness.
We are dedicated to learning, growing, and strengthening our agency’s commitment to social and racial justice, not only improving our internal programs but showing up to support our partners in communities of color. Only in doing so will we collectively end youth homelessness.