Philanthropies and Seattle and King County leaders announced Tuesday that their disparate efforts to end youth homelessness would combine into one office, with a singular goal: Ending youth homelessness in two years from this month.
This is not the first time local leaders have announced a plan to end homelessness. The Committee to End Homelessness’ 10-year plan to end homelessness in King County didn’t come anywhere close to fruition by 2015 — in fact, homelessness got worse.
But with youth homelessness, it’s possible Seattle and King County have a chance. Youth homelessness seems to be dropping, at least according to an annual count released earlier this year, which counted 28% fewer youth and young adults (up to age 24) on Seattle’s streets than the year before. For homeless people younger than 18, there was a 52% drop.
The data suggests a surge in federal, state and philanthropic spending on youth homelessness in King County is having an impact.
“We know that we’ve become smarter about dealing with this crisis,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “The larger picture is that it is a reflection of economic and systemic problems.”
But people shouldn’t be surprised if King County doesn’t reach its entire goal in two years, said Mark Courtney, a nationally regarded social-services professor and expert on youth homelessness at the University of Chicago.
“I think it’s a great aspiration,” Courtney said. “The challenge with creating a goal like that is if you don’t meet it, what message does that send? … Does the public get tired of these efforts, these promises that we’re going to end some type of homelessness in two years? It can create fatigue.”
Tuesday’s announcement means that the resources of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Seattle and King County, as well as private money from the Raikes and Schultz Family foundations (also funders of The Seattle Times Project Homeless), United Way of King County, and funds raised by the band Pearl Jam during its Home Shows in August 2018 will be combined under a single, coordinated campaign.
The campaign will be staffed by the City of Seattle, King County and All Home, the entity coordinating the city and county homelessness response, which used to be the Committee to End Homelessness.
Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Stone Gossard attended a news conference announcing the campaign, along with Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and other local leaders in nonprofits and philanthropy.
This is not a plan to make sure no young people ever become homeless. The goal is to ensure that young people who fall into homelessness are housed within 30 days or less, or prevented from going into a shelter or in the first place — a strategy called “functional zero.”
This could also be a harbinger of things to come for a larger effort in King County to reduce all types of homelessness. Durkan and Constantine have committed to consolidating all efforts fighting homelessness into one joint regional authority, merging the roughly $200 million they all spend on homelessness — from shelters to long-term supportive housing — under a new agency, led by a small board.
That effort has quietly been underway for months, with more specific plans and local legislation expected to emerge this summer.
But there are hurdles to overcome. Just next door to the new campaign headquarters for combating youth homelessness, ROOTS Young Adult Shelter will be forced to leave its home of 20 years by the end of next year, before the ending-youth-homelessness deadline.
Another Seattle youth shelter on Capitol Hill is also facing displacement, meaning roughly half of Seattle’s shelter beds for young adults are up in the air. State House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, described ROOTS’ situation as a “crisis.”
But Arthur Padilla, ROOTS’ executive director, is hopeful the shelter can find a new spot and is optimistic about the effort.
“I don’t want to be a cynic at all, because I think it’s imperative to find an end to the crisis,” Padilla said. “My hope is that this move and this push is the answer we’ve been looking for, and I will remain hopeful always.”