In the article about the University of Washington’s new youth homelessness initiative, a statistic stated that “only 66 percent of emergency shelter beds for youth and young adults were occupied from October 2016 to October 2017.”
I am concerned that this number could give readers the wrong impression that the norm in King County is to have open beds while young people are refusing to accept safe shelter and housing.
More commonly, emergency shelter providers consistently turn young people away due to a lack of space. This is particularly true for young adults aged 18 to 24, by far the largest segment of young people who are homeless. Those under age 18 have additional barriers due to legal constraints, including parental notification and consent as well as systemic barriers that housing providers do not control. Minors are often afraid to present themselves to shelter providers given the current law that mandates notification of police, DSHS and/or parents.
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Washington is poised to be a national leader in addressing the scourge of youth homelessness and Seattle/King County providers are respected as leading the way. We certainly need more shelter and long-term housing options for young people, along with increased mental-health and chemical-dependency treatment beds across the state.
Jim Theofelis, executive director, A Way Home Washington, Seattle