Revisiting King County’s Plan to End Youth Homelessness: One Year Later

Two young people wearing backpacks and walking away.

Like many regions across the country, King County, WA, is strengthening its efforts to end youth homelessness. A few years back, the county convened a taskforce of service providers and community leaders to develop a three-pronged plan for keeping young people off the streets.

The finished plan, published in April 2012, included a list of recommendations for preventing homelessness, collecting data and better connecting youth to available services. According to Megan Gibbard, who was hired by King County to help implement these suggestions, the taskforce helped mobilize an already active community by asking stakeholders to develop a common course of action.

“[Before the taskforce,] we had a lot of really great services in this community for youth that worked together well informally, but there wasn’t any comprehensive, coordinated effort,” she says. “This plan really catalyzed that effort.”

One year later, we decided to check in with members of the King County taskforce to see what’s been accomplished in the region, and what steps and challenges lie ahead.

What a Difference a Year Makes

YouthCare Executive Director Melinda Giovengo, who served on the taskforce, says King County chose to focus on prevention first in order to reduce the number of kids leaving home.

“If families are fragile, sometimes a good piece of duct tape helps,” Giovengo says. “Whatever we can do to sustain a family that has been determined to be safe is probably the most effective, ethical and efficient way to intervene with youth homelessness.”

Since the report was issued, King County has expanded the number of National Safe Place locations where young people can find refuge and launched a hotline that provides free counseling to families.

Gibbard says bigger challenges will occur as the taskforce considers the remaining two prongs of the report: developing a more consistent process for referring youth to services and improving the type of data that are collected. Having so many people at the table, she says, can make it difficult to make decisions and keep everyone informed of changes. She adds that such challenges are common for any big group trying to take a new idea and put it into practice.

“With any system change, it’s bumpy,” Gibbard says.

Looking Back, Thinking Ahead

Even with some challenging conversations ahead, the taskforce provides ongoing opportunities for youth-serving organizations to share what they've learned in decades of practice. Practitioners, for example, say helping homeless youth goes well beyond finding them a place to sleep.

“There’s just an incredible amount of support that you have to give to these kids if they’re going to be successful in transitioning from a homeless young adult situation into an independent adult member of our of society,” says Jim Blanchard, executive director of Auburn Youth Resources, which serves youth in South King County.

Blanchard credits the taskforce and its report for helping community leaders understand youth needs across the entire county, not just in urban areas.

“In many cases, the biggest city in the county probably dominates the homeless discussion, whether it’s Seattle or Chicago or New York or Philadelphia,” he says. “I think that our county is making a very real effort to deal with the problem as a regional problem, not oriented to just the core area of Seattle.”

Learn more about King County’s efforts to end youth homelessness by reading the priority action steps report or visiting the initiative's website.

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