The Mockingbird Society’s goal to end youth homelessness has recently had the opportunity to focus on local level work in King County. King County is currently undergoing extensive transitions to its administration of the homeless system, and it is imperative that youth with lived experience are brought to the table.
King County is undergoing several homeless system changes and starting new initiatives; some of the projects we are involved with include All Home’s goal to end youth homelessness by 2021. Alongside this, the city of Seattle and King County are creating a new King County regional homeless authority and regional action plan; this authority will hopefully help coordinate funding, policy, and services. The hope is the new authority will achieve a more efficient and effective response to homelessness throughout King County. Also seeing new changes is the juvenile justice system in King County, with the passage of SB 5290 (eliminating the use of detention for youth who engage in noncriminal behavior), which means that the county is now taking a public health approach to juvenile justice.
As the county embarks on these improvements to the system, and as we work with them, we prioritize youth and young adults as the experts based on their experience with these systems. If there is no space for them, we partner to create opportunities for the voices of young people to be heard. We are committed to bringing in more communities and organizations that are traditionally not at the table, like those led by people of color. We also need to understand the intersection of youth homelessness and other systems. Youth and young adults who have experienced the mental health system, juvenile justice, or those with disabilities are more likely to become homeless after exiting said systems. These young people need support and a pathway to success after leaving care. Furthermore, a critical piece to such an ambitious transition is realizing we need a structural change; these systems need to be both inclusive and accessible for every young person. As our systems stand, they are not set up to meet the needs of the disproportionate number of youth of color these systems serve. These are institutionally racist systems, and we can no longer try to work within the system and be compliant as it has little effect on culture and policy, and thus does not lead to lasting change.
As we engage in local work, we have been taking the time to meet with our partnering advocacy organizations, direct service providers, youth led boards, and local leaders. The feedback has been similar across the board:
- First and foremost, the county needs to address institutional racism, in order to address one of the root causes of homelessness.
- Those with lived experience need to be involved in the decision-making process and youth must be at the table. It can’t just be adults speaking on behalf of youth.
- More communication is needed between the county, the cities, and service providers in all parts of the region - not just Seattle.
- There needs to be more partnership between families, communities, organizations, and systems of care.
- There is no agreed upon end goal, are we working towards functional zero or “ending youth homelessness”.
- We need to decide how we address homelessness for youth under 18. The reality is that many youth in shelters are homeless and under the age of 18. They are not being screened into foster care. This means no state or local agency is responsible for them.
- Resources need to be shared and distributed. King County is a large county with diverse needs across the region, and cities besides Seattle need support. Presently resources and funding is centered in Seattle, and other areas are not feeling supported in serving youth who are experiencing homelessness.
We are excited to support youth voice in these system changes and hope that the county listens to the voices of youth who have experienced homelessness, so they may effectively respond and react to new ideas from those who are the experts in their experience.