As youth homelessness in Washington rapidly increases, youth and young adults have an urgent need for emergency shelter beds, including CRC beds. What is a CRC? As defined by the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services, “Crisis Residential Centers (CRCs) are shortterm, semi-secure or secure facilities for runaway youth and adolescents in conflict with their families.” CRCs provide emergency resources, temporary residence, assessment, and referrals to services for youth ages 12 to 17. CRCs are used for housing foster and homeless youth, providing them a safe stable household for a short period of time.
CRCs are critical to sheltering at-risk youth and foster youth as well as supporting their mental and educational stability. According to the 2016 Point-in-Time Count, there are at least 1,073 homeless unaccompanied youth in Washington State. In addition, there are over 9,000 children and youth in out-of-home placement throughout Washington. Despite these numbers, there are currently only 116 CRC beds available in 11 out of 39 counties. Last year, thanks to advocacy from The Mockingbird Society, the state Legislature expanded funding for HOPE beds, another type of emergency shelter, more than half of Washington counties still lack emergency shelter options for minors. The counties that don’t have CRC or HOPE beds often move youth to a different county. Being forced to move out of county often negatively impacts their education and hurts their ability to gain and maintain employment.
This is an issue that has affected me personally. I have been in foster care for about 4 years and have had many experiences in CRC placements throughout Washington. While most CRCs house several adolescents at once, since everyone’s placement is temporary, it is hard to make friends. Being forced to move out of Pierce County was frustrating for me. One time, I had to be moved and there weren’t any available beds in the counties nearby, so they placed me in a detention center in Port Angeles, over 100 miles away. It wasn’t a place I wanted to be. I was trying to go back to school and get my life right, but being placed in detention made me feel as if I was being punished for being in foster care. On another occasion, I was placed in an Olympia CRC facility that was licensed to provide beds for up to 10 youth.
Having to move constantly also affected my education and employment. Because I could not attend school for long periods of time, I received no credit. I fell so far behind on school credits, that I am now pursing my GED instead. I needed money and wanted a job, but unstable placement also made it a lot harder to find work. Eventually, I gave up searching and instead waited until I found a more stable environment.
Lack of CRC beds is a major problem and we need to address it. We should continue to advocate for funding towards CRC beds. Beyond increasing access to CRC beds, there are various ways you can help adolescents in foster care. If you know anyone in the foster care system, you should support them. Whether it’s supporting them mentally, financially, or being there for that individual physically. Becoming a foster parent is a good way to keep kids from bouncing around from placement to placement. Your support could be the starting point in changing their lives.