Last week, King County released their 2018 Point-in-Time Count, including the number of homeless youth and young adults.
Here’s the good news: the rates of youth and young adult homelessness remained relatively steady—1,498 in 2017 to 1,518 in 2018—an increase of just 20 young people. Moreover, the number of homeless minors went down by 22%, due in part to the critical work of King County’s Best Starts for Kids Initiative and the Washington State Office of Homeless Youth, which doubled YouthCare’s capacity to serve minors through the opening of Paul G. Allen Hope Center at YouthCare in 2017.
Here’s the bad news: the rates of homeless youth and young adults remained relatively steady.
As a community at large, we know that each year more people are becoming homeless than are exiting homelessness into housing. And rising rents continue to push people into homelessness at unprecedented rates. In our work with homeless youth and young adults, we’ve been able to prevent more young people from becoming homeless. But maintaining the status quo is no cause to celebrate. 1,518 youth and young adults on the streets is 1,518 too many. We must do more. We know there are innovative solutions for each of the 1,518 youth and young adults on the streets. It is time to double-down and ensure that no young person falls into chronic adult homelessness by accident, or because we couldn’t provide an intervention fast enough.
Other important takeaways from the 2018 Count:
First, homeless young people reported accessing services at a higher rate when compared to all other survey respondents (89% compared to 82%), underscoring what we’ve been saying for years: young people are not homeless by choice. They want services and they are using them to stay safe today and move ahead for tomorrow. We should be leveraging that engagement by increasing resources to provide more young people with the services they need. This is our best, and most humane, strategy to stop the pipeline into adult homelessness.
Second, when compared to survey respondents age 25 and older, “homeless young people reporting a health condition indicated slightly higher rates of psychiatric or emotional conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury, but lower rates of substance abuse, chronic health problems, and physical disability.” If we truly want to end homelessness, we need to ensure that young people have both the housing and the support they need, including investments in mental health services.
Third, 48% of adults in the Count experienced homelessness before age the age of 24. We know that the best way to end adult homelessness is to stop it from ever happening. Preventing and ending youth homelessness must be a key part of our homelessness response system and our vision for a community where no young person experiences homelessness. We must tailor our solutions to leverage the unique assets and momentum of youth and young adults, providing a wide range of short- and long-term housing options and access to employment training, education, and supportive services.
Ultimately, the results of the Count are cause for hope—and motivation to increase our support for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Resolving our community’s homelessness crisis starts with harnessing the potential of young people and putting them at the forefront of our homelessness strategy.