The insider's perspective on the Office of Homeless Youth: how it operates, who is involved, and what's happening next
By Sierra Phillips
The Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) was created in 2015, with the passing of the Homeless Youth Act (SB 5404/HB 1436) and as part of the implementation of the Homeless Youth Act. This piece of legislation was designed to support youth experiencing homelessness and to prevent youth homelessness before it happens. The Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) was to have an advisory board consisting of twelve members, including a seat reserved for a young person who had experienced homelessness. Except for legislative representatives, all the members of this committee were to be appointed by the Governor himself and I was hoping to fill the seat reserved for youth voice.
A year ago, I received an email informing me that I had been chosen for a 2-year term of service, advising OHY by being a member of the advisory committee. This opportunity to be involved in the Advisory Board was important and meant a lot to me and my peers because we felt this was just what the Mockingbird Society and Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness (YAEH) needed. It would provide a "foot in the door" and truly allow youth voice to have an impact on the lives of homeless youth. We had our first meeting last February 2016 in Olympia. At this meeting, we got to know each other and planned what we were going to do over the next year to get the OHY Report ready to be released to the public by December 2016.
First, the report had to be created and sent directly to the Governor’s Office for approval. Throughout the year, the Advisory Board had statewide meetings and consulted different programs that worked with homeless and at-risk youth. We listened to these programs and what they needed, and took care to see that these needs where to be directly addressed in the final report.
Before the report was delivered, the board asked for endorsement. I endorsed the plan without any doubts because I felt the plan was exactly what was needed for homeless youth statewide. I support the focus on preventing youth exiting care to exit into homelessness. I also support the leveraging of federal McKinney-Vento Act funds to improve education and employment outcomes in Washington State. I like that these aim to designate a trained staff person in every K-12 public school building, which is a direct representation of the YAEH Chapter’s legislative goal this year.
The report we delivered laid out the best thinking on ways Washington State can make the biggest impact on preventing and ending youth homelessness. There is no magic wand to solve youth homelessness, but we can take what experience and research tell us to make the best decisions today and for the future. Now, the super amazing end to this timeline is that the 2016 plan has officially been released to the public! I highly suggest taking a look at it. You can find it on the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection’s website. Thanks for your support, and I look forward to see what we can accomplish together moving forward.