youth homelessness overview

Every year more than 4.2 million young people, ages 13 to 25, experience homelessness in the United States. Overwhelmingly, they are youth of color and young people who identify as LGBTQ.

We believe that every young person deserves a safe, stable place to call home, and we’re working to make that vision reality. To end youth homelessness, we need to both prevent young people from becoming homeless and respond rapidly, with culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services when a young person becomes unsafe or unsheltered.

We work with our partners to help schools, child welfare services and the juvenile justice system recognize the early warning signs of young people in crisis and prevent homelessness. We also work to ensure the community has the systems and tools in place to respond effectively if young person does find themselves in crisis.

strategy

 

Since 2011, our goal has been to make youth homelessness a rare, brief and one-time occurrence for young people. In 2015, we expanded our efforts from King County, WA to Washington state and the nation. We see our role as a convener and catalyst. We bring together young people who have experienced homelessness, homelessness providers, community organizations and government partners to learn what’s working, share promising practices and drive more resources to youth. 

Our strategy is two-pronged:

1) Prevention and early intervention: Reach at-risk young people and prevent them from ever experiencing homelessness.

2) Rapid response to crisis: If a young person does experience homelessness, ensure the community has the resources and tools to respond rapidly and effectively.

 

Prevention and early intervention

We know that ending youth homelessness starts with prevention and early intervention. Our public schools, child welfare services and juvenile justice system can and should play an important role in preventing youth homelessness. These systems are ideally positioned to identify the early warning signs of young people in crisis and connect them with services that can stabilize their housing situations or home life.

  • Public schools: More than 1.3 million homeless students have been identified in our public schools—on average, there are 14 students experiencing homelessness in each public school across America. With the proper support, teachers and staff can help identify students who are facing crises and connect them to the right supports, such as housing, counseling and/or legal assistance. 
  • Child welfare: The instability of life in the child welfare system often pushes young people into homelessness. With more resources and improved coordination among youth-serving agencies, child welfare, including foster care, can play a crucial role in keeping young people from ever experiencing homelessness. 
  • Juvenile justice: Too many young people cycle between the juvenile justice system and homelessness. Law enforcement, probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges can break this cycle by linking young people to supportive services, such as housing, education and employment opportunities. 

Rapid response to crisis

Even one night on the streets can derail a young person's future. The faster crisis response systems can identify and match a young person with developmentally-appropriate, trauma-informed services, the sooner that young person can get back on a path toward stability. We foster collaboration between a variety of stakeholders so that communities can better understand young people’s needs, align available services and respond quickly to end the crisis of homelessness. 

Partnerships and advocacy

Another essential aspect of our strategy is ensuring that young people who have experienced homelessness are heard and seen by policymakers. We believe that lifting up the voices of those most impacted by homelessness is essential to achieving justice and equity, as well as generating the systemic change we need to end homelessness.

We partner with public and private leaders in Washington state and across the nation to fund community action and raise awareness of the urgency of solving youth homelessness. We also support youth-led advocacy efforts to end homelessness at the local, state and federal level.


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progress

 

We have seen positive momentum to address youth homelessness in our state and across our country. Collectively, we have better data and research, more knowledge about innovative programs and practices, and increased government capacity and commitment to address youth homelessness at the local, state and national levels. The Raikes Foundation is proud to be a contributor to these community-led efforts with support from other foundations, service providers, policymakers and young people. We all recognize that our journey is not finished, but we are on our way to making youth and young adult homelessness a rare, brief and a one-time occurrence. Here are some of our proudest accomplishments to-date.

Supporting a coordinated community response to address youth homelessness in King County

Since 2011, we have been supporting a coordinated community response to address youth homelessness in King County, which got a big boost in 2017 when the county was one of ten communities selected by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency to be a Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) site. The $5.4 million in annual grant making support will allow our region to pilot innovative strategies to address youth homelessness and position King County to effectively end homeless for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness by end of 2020.

Creating the Office of Homeless Youth in Washington state

Along with community partners we helped drive the creation of Washington’s Office of Homeless Youth (OHY), an agency charged with leading statewide efforts to prevent youth homelessness. Since its creation the office has issued a plan to effectively end youth homelessness in the state, helped provider implement best practices for homeless youth and funded efforts to eliminate the practice of discharging youth from public systems into homelessness.

Launching statewide campaign to end youth homelessness in Washington state

Working with other funders, we helped launch A Way Home Washington (AWHWA), a campaign to end youth and young adult homelessness in our state. In 2017, AWHWA worked closely with Rapid Results Institute and the communities in King, Pierce and Spokane to house more than 600 young people as part of a 100-Day Challenge. In the fall of 2018, AWHWA will launch the Anchor Communities Initiative—a project to demonstrate that it is possible effectively end youth homelessness in communities across our state—with the ultimate goal of ending youth homelessness statewide by 2022.

Supporting national efforts to end youth homelessness

In partnership with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a leading research institution on youth and families, we supported Voices of Youth Count, a first-of-its-kind research initiative on the prevalence of youth homelessness nationwide. Using innovative research methods, Chapin Hall’s data provides an in-depth look at how and why youth experience homelessness, where homeless youth are and what strategies we can use to end youth homelessness.

We also supported the launch of A Way Home America (AWHA), an effort that brings together diverse stakeholders nationwide with the shared goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness in the United States.

Supporting efforts to address student homelessness

With the America’s Promise Alliance, Schoolhouse Connection, Civic Enterprises and the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, we supported the launch of the Education Leads Home campaign. The campaign has three goals: Ensure students who experience homeless have equal access to early childhood education by 2026; achieve a 90 percent graduation rate for homeless students by 2030; and reach a 60 percent post-secondary attainment rate for homeless students by 2034.

Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Vulcan Philanthropy and the Campion Foundation, we also supported the creation of School House Washington, an organization that addresses student homelessness in Washington state. As a result of our collective efforts, there are more resources, improved policies and important lessons learned on what we can do to prevent students and their families from experiencing homelessness.

Driving innovation in prevention and crisis response 

  • In King County, we’ve invested in a number of projects to improve the crisis response system and to prevent young people from becoming homeless. We’ve invested in diversion programs that keep at-risk youth housed, as well as in Host Homes, which provide an alternative housing solution for youth who need short-term assistance.
  • We support legal services for youth and young adults which have been shown to be effective in eliminating systemic barriers to stable housing.
  • In Washington state, we co-invested in a three-county project to eliminate the practice of discharging young people from public systems, like foster care or the justice system, into homelessness.

Supporting youth advocacy

We support the Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates for Ending Homelessness program, which trains and supports current and formerly homeless youth to speak publicly and directly with policymakers about the needs of homeless youth. These youth advocates have been critical to advancing local and statewide efforts on youth homelessness.

Supporting equitable outcomes

Not all young people are equally at risk of experiencing homelessness. Overwhelmingly, young people who experience homelessness are LGBTQ, youth of color, or both, and we believe that if we’re going to end youth homelessness, we have to address structural and institutional racism and inequities. We have invested in several efforts to better understand the institutional and structural barriers that hold back marginalized youth including:

  • youth of color needs assessment to better understand the needs of homeless youth of color;
  • School House Washington's work with the Equity in Education Coalition to better identify the needs of students of color experiencing homelessness;
  • national summit with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on racial equity and homelessness, an effort to support communities to explicitly integrate equity in community efforts to address homelessness.

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  • Partner spotlight

    True Colors United

    In the United States, 4.2 million youth experience homelessness each year, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers. True Colors United believes that in order to develop effective policy solutions to end youth homelessness, youth with lived experience must be a part of the solution. And no organization is doing more than True Colors to bring LGBTQ youth to the table in a meaningful way.

    One way that True Colors is empowering youth is through its National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH), a group founded in 2015 to ensure that the national conversation is informed by and filtered through the perspectives of young people who have experienced homelessness, and that strategies to end homelessness are generated by youth and young adults themselves.

    The group is comprised exclusively of young people who have experienced homelessness who use personal expertise, research, and data to assess the effectiveness of programs that assist youth experiencing homelessness. The primary goal of NYFH is to identify and analyze policy that impacts youth who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and then advocate for strong policy based upon that analysis. 

    “Typically, youth homelessness policy has been driven by adults without lived experience. Because of that, for decades now, decision makers in the homelessness field have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out how to fix the system, to no avail. People who have navigated the systems of youth homelessness themselves can more effectively cut through the bureaucracy and get to the crux of how these systems work to bring about real change,” said Rivianna Hyatt, True Colors Program Officer and a founding member of the NYFH. 

    With the Raikes Foundation’s support, True Colors has expanded the NYFH from 15 members to 25, and increased both the staffing devoted to NYFH and the number of paid hours that NYFH members are able to devote to this work. The Foundation has also supported a shift in the strategic direction of True Colors’ focus. Whereas previously True Colors worked to facilitate youth collaboration, now, thanks to increased capacity and funding, True Colors has created a curriculum to build the power of young people to effect policy change. 

    “Thanks in part to the NYFH, young people have been in the room for big decision-making moments on homelessness policy. That has given us so much momentum - what we had thought about and hypothesized about building these spaces worked, and now it’s just a matter of continuing the work to ensure that youth are heard and their voices are uplifted,” continued Hyatt. 

    The NYFH is broken up into four different working groups: training and education, communications, youth action, and policy and advocacy. Staying true to True Colors’ mission, youth set the agenda for each group. For example, the policy and advocacy working group is currently thinking about topics that relate to homelessness in regards to housing, equity, and education in response to the current demonstrations for racial equity. One of the group’s goals is to think about homelessness through an intersectional lens, rather than a monolithic view. And the group is also building a COVID and racial equity youth action toolkit with True Colors staff that they ultimately hope to build into a youth action course to teach young people how to engage in advocacy. 

    Critically, the NYFH has also had an incredible impact on its members. “The NYFH offers young people an opportunity to thrive in advocacy work and add their voices to a national conversation on homelessness. The young people feel pride and ownership in their work, and gain invaluable experience in leadership and public speaking as a result,” said Ken Lopez, True Colors Program officer for the NYFH. 

    In addition to empowering youth to change homelessness policy, True Colors, in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and with support from the Raikes Foundation, is tracking the myriad barriers and challenges youth experiencing homelessness face with the State Index on Youth Homelessness. The Index provides states, advocates, grassroots activists, and youth themselves with tools to take concrete action to protect the safety, development, health, and dignity of youth experiencing homelessness, in order to help end the cycle of homelessness for good.

    To learn more about True Colors and to support their work, visit truecolorsunited.org.

     


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    Partner spotlight

    True Colors United

    In the United States, 4.2 million youth experience homelessness each year, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers. True Colors United believes that in order to develop effective policy solutions to end youth homelessness, youth with lived experience must be a part of the solution. And no organization is doing more than True Colors to bring LGBTQ youth to the table in a meaningful way.

    One way that True Colors is empowering youth is through its National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH), a group founded in 2015 to ensure that the national conversation is informed by and filtered through the perspectives of young people who have experienced homelessness, and that strategies to end homelessness are generated by youth and young adults themselves.

    The group is comprised exclusively of young people who have experienced homelessness who use personal expertise, research, and data to assess the effectiveness of programs that assist youth experiencing homelessness. The primary goal of NYFH is to identify and analyze policy that impacts youth who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and then advocate for strong policy based upon that analysis. 

    “Typically, youth homelessness policy has been driven by adults without lived experience. Because of that, for decades now, decision makers in the homelessness field have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out how to fix the system, to no avail. People who have navigated the systems of youth homelessness themselves can more effectively cut through the bureaucracy and get to the crux of how these systems work to bring about real change,” said Rivianna Hyatt, True Colors Program Officer and a founding member of the NYFH. 

    With the Raikes Foundation’s support, True Colors has expanded the NYFH from 15 members to 25, and increased both the staffing devoted to NYFH and the number of paid hours that NYFH members are able to devote to this work. The Foundation has also supported a shift in the strategic direction of True Colors’ focus. Whereas previously True Colors worked to facilitate youth collaboration, now, thanks to increased capacity and funding, True Colors has created a curriculum to build the power of young people to effect policy change. 

    “Thanks in part to the NYFH, young people have been in the room for big decision-making moments on homelessness policy. That has given us so much momentum - what we had thought about and hypothesized about building these spaces worked, and now it’s just a matter of continuing the work to ensure that youth are heard and their voices are uplifted,” continued Hyatt. 

    The NYFH is broken up into four different working groups: training and education, communications, youth action, and policy and advocacy. Staying true to True Colors’ mission, youth set the agenda for each group. For example, the policy and advocacy working group is currently thinking about topics that relate to homelessness in regards to housing, equity, and education in response to the current demonstrations for racial equity. One of the group’s goals is to think about homelessness through an intersectional lens, rather than a monolithic view. And the group is also building a COVID and racial equity youth action toolkit with True Colors staff that they ultimately hope to build into a youth action course to teach young people how to engage in advocacy. 

    Critically, the NYFH has also had an incredible impact on its members. “The NYFH offers young people an opportunity to thrive in advocacy work and add their voices to a national conversation on homelessness. The young people feel pride and ownership in their work, and gain invaluable experience in leadership and public speaking as a result,” said Ken Lopez, True Colors Program officer for the NYFH. 

    In addition to empowering youth to change homelessness policy, True Colors, in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and with support from the Raikes Foundation, is tracking the myriad barriers and challenges youth experiencing homelessness face with the State Index on Youth Homelessness. The Index provides states, advocates, grassroots activists, and youth themselves with tools to take concrete action to protect the safety, development, health, and dignity of youth experiencing homelessness, in order to help end the cycle of homelessness for good.

    To learn more about True Colors and to support their work, visit truecolorsunited.org.

     


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We can end youth homelessness, and it starts with adults affirming young people’s identities and letting them show us the way.

– Tricia Raikes, Co-Founder, Raikes Foundation

Illustrative Grants

Legal Counsel for Youth and Children

This grant supports LCYC’s Legal Services Partnership for Youth, a program that provides pro bono legal support for young people experiencing homelessness. 

A Way Home Washington

This grant supports A Way Home Washington’s efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington State.

100 Day Challenge Sites

This collection of grants to the Rapid Results Institute, Nexus Youth and Families, YouthCare, the Reach Center, and Spokane Housing Authority facilitated the 100 Day Challenge in Washington state, an initiative to house as many young people as possible in 100 days by piloting innovative solutions. 

Civic Enterprises

This grant supports Civic Enterprises’ work on student homelessness, including research, policy development and analysis, and communications.

The Mockingbird Society

This grant provides ongoing support for the Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness, a leadership development program that engages youth who are currently experiencing or have previously experienced homelessness to engage in efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Washington State. 

YouthCare, Nexus Youth and Families, Friends of Youth, New Horizons, YMCA

This grant supports a collaborative effort among these five youth service providers to offer flexible funding to more quickly end the crisis of homelessness for young people. The project also supports the development of the Youth Worker’s Institute, skills development training for providers, and peer learning across agencies.