A homeless man in Bremerton told me, “Please help the kids first.”

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IN this season of expressing thanks and sharing goodwill, many among us are also moved to share our personal bounty with those less fortunate. We give to food banks and donate to deserving nonprofits.

As we move about our daily lives, we see figures along sidewalks and freeways holding signs asking for help. We see makeshift shelters and blankets covering sleeping forms in doorways and alleys.

Young and homeless

Editor's note: Editorial writer Jonathan Martin spent several weeks looking at youth homelessness from all angles, traveling in-state and out to talk with kids, parents, foster parents, social workers, state officials and lawmakers. A series of editorials have addressed Martin's findings and appeared alongside columns and guest commentaries addressing this issue.

Video: What would have helped you?

Meet six young people from The Mockingbird Society talk about their experiences being homeless and what helped them get off the streets.

Editorials

Connecticut shows there are better alternatives to juvenile detention

Host homes provide a sense of belonging for homeless youths

Homeless youths left to chance

State needs to divert resources for jailing homeless youths to prevention

Children on the streets slipping through the cracks

State has misplaced priorities on vulnerable teens

The story of one homeless girl, Brittany, who was failed time and time again

Columns

Editor's note: Embracing the state's young and homeless

Jonathan Martin: Homeless youths, their trackers, running around in circles

Jonathan Martin: A grass-roots solution for homeless kids, mowed down by the state

Op-Eds

A call to action: LGBTQ teens need shelter, wraparound services

Is it ever OK to lock up runaway kids? Public officials weigh in

Trudi Inslee: The immediate dangers facing children living on the street

Nobody wants to put runaways in detention — but what do we do?

Young, gay and homeless: Why some parents reject their children


Support for this series

Reporting for this project was made possible with financial support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private, national philanthropic organization that aims to better futures for disadvantaged children in the U.S. The work was done and directed independently of the foundation.


Reddit chat

Jonathan Martin and Megan Gibbard of All Home King County talked about youth homelessness during a recent "Ask Me Anything" Live chat on Reddit.

More often than we care to admit, we turn away. Homelessness is too overwhelming, too painful to witness, too difficult to solve.

We want to end this “problem,” but do we understand what the “problem” is?

More than 19,400 individuals in Washington state were counted as homeless in a recent one-night count. Homelessness has no singular cause. Some adults grapple with finding affordable housing. Others are dealing with mental-health or chemical-dependency issues.

These men and women, by and large, are resilient and compassionate. When I speak with homeless adults, I am heartened by their desire to help others on the streets, and what moves me most is their consistent plea to help the children first.

“I’ll be OK,” a man from Bremerton told me. “Please help the kids first.”

Trudi Inslee is Washington’s first lady and co-chair of the Washington Youth and Family Fund.
Trudi Inslee is Washington’s first lady and co-chair of the Washington Youth and Family Fund.

More than 30,000 children in our public-school system are homeless. Many live on the street, in cars or in temporary shelters with a parent. Many do not come forward for assistance, fearing if they are identified as homeless they would be taken away from their parents. But some live alone.

In Seattle, 700 to 1,000 youths have no safe place or trusted guardian. They are on the streets, in cars or couch-surfing because they were abused, kicked out due to their sexual orientation or told to leave because money could not be stretched far enough to house and feed them.

These young people are in immediate danger from those who lure them with promises of a safe place then force them into a life of sex trafficking or addiction.

There is no easy solution — money alone won’t solve these problems nor will any one program or service.

Thankfully, there are many organizations in our state working together to make homelessness rare, brief and a one-time occurrence. The governor and I are working diligently to make sure our state is stepping up as well.

One of the most direct investments we’ve made is $140 million into the state’s housing trust fund. This additional funding is supporting construction of roughly 2,900 new units, with $24 million dollars available for additional projects in 2016.

We’ve invested in additional support services for homeless adults seeking employment, safer shelters for homeless families, and emergency assistance to families in crisis. In the last budget cycle, we added $323 million for behavioral health services for improvements in children’s mental-health services, increased access to crisis services and added capacity at our state hospitals.

And while most people don’t directly link health care to homelessness, our health-care-reform efforts are helping more adults access mental and behavioral health services that can help prevent homelessness or increase the odds of an adult gaining back their foothold on a productive life.

The governor was also able to put $10 million into a new Ending Family Homeless Program. And the funding for the Washington Youth and Family Fund, a public-private partnership with a long history of helping homeless families, was broadened so the group can also support services for youths.

One critically important step to helping homeless youths was passage this year of the Homeless Youth Prevention Act (SSSB 5404), which will greatly help focus and leverage our efforts. The bill created an Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection that will work with our state’s network of organizations to provide safe housing, support family reunification when viable, support emotional health and well-being, and assist youths in completing school and building a plan for their futures with the goal of preventing them from becoming chronically homeless.

As with all children, we need to give homeless youths a vision for their futures and mentor them so they have a path to graduation and eventually become employed adults who have meaningful connections to their community.

The next time you encounter a man or woman on the street — young or old — please stop, offer a smile and take a moment to really see them. You will see a person in need of compassion, friendship and a warm safe place to call home, as do we all.

We must all do our part to help make homelessness rare, brief and one-time.