What You Need to Know about the 2017 Count Us In Report

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For several years, Count Us In, King County’s one-night count of homeless and unstably housed individuals, returned the same numbers: there were somewhere around 800-850 youth on the streets in King County, with at least 200-300 of them spending each night in alleyways, under bridges, in cars, or in tents.

Curiously, as we and other youth service providers added more youth-specific shelter beds, that number remained mostly unchanged.

Now, we know why.

This year’s count was conducted using updated methodology from previous years. All Home, the agency that manages the survey, employed guides for each survey group who were currently or had recently experienced homelessness to canvass census tracts, rather than sending out volunteer teams to pre-identified “known areas” frequented by those living on the streets as they had in previous years. The result was a strikingly different count, particularly of youth and young adults.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the notable findings in the 2017 report:

There are close to 12,000 people experiencing homelessness in King County.

The count returned the exact tally of people (of any age) living on the streets at 11,643. A slightly larger half of those (53%) are sheltered in emergency or transitional shelters, while a slightly smaller half is unsheltered, meaning they live on the streets, in an abandoned building, out of a motor vehicle of some kind, or in a tent.

Those identified as homeless are mostly from King County.

77% of survey participants were residents of King County when they lost their housing. Only 9% reported living in another state at the time of entry onto the streets.

People of color are disproportionately affected.

While African-Americans make up just 6% of King County’s population, 29% of Count Us In respondents were African American. Similarly, when comparing representation among the homeless population vs. general population: Hispanics made up 14% compared to 9%; American Indian/Alaskan Native comprised 6% compared to 1%; and multi-racial participants made up 15% compared to 6%.

We previously underestimated the number of homeless or unstably housed youth by over 75%.

Count Us In 2017 tallied 1,498 unaccompanied youth and young adults between ages 13-25. This dramatic change is not due to an increased presence of youth on the streets but is believed to be more accurate count due to this year’s improved data collection methods.

Over 75% of these youth are unsheltered.

Even when we believed there were only 200-300 youth on the streets each night (and not sleeping on a friend’s couch or in a car, etc.), we knew the number of youth-specific beds was insufficient to meet the need. This year’s findings only confirm and make more urgent the need to provide more youth-friendly housing in Seattle and King County, since Count Us In showed that over 75% of the youth surveyed spend their nights on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in a tent, or in a car.

Many youth move from foster care to the streets.

While 19% of all individuals on the streets reported a history of foster care, 29% of youth under age 25 and 33% of those identifying as LGBTQ said they’d spent time in foster care. Many of these youth age out of their foster homes at 18 and have nowhere else to go.

Youth identifying as LGBTQ make up nearly one-third of the homeless young adult population.

As we have long known, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer are much more likely to end up homeless than their heterosexual counterparts; however, this year’s report shows a higher percentage (29%) of LGBTQ youth on the streets than before.

What do these findings mean for us?

This year’s report comes as a wake-up call for everyone concerned with empowering youth and young adults into their best possible futures.

The report also demonstrates that, while the number of youth is higher than previously thought, there is hope. Local government and service providers’ focus on housing homeless families has resulted in 97% of those families receiving housing. This focus can bring our young adults inside, as well.

If we focus on early intervention for youth and young adults the same way we have focused on families, we create the opportunity for them to escape chronic homelessness and live full, healthy lives as fulfilled, contributing citizens.

Thank you for your partnership that has already opened 34 shelter beds at New Horizons in the last two years. With more efforts like these and friends like you, we truly believe we can make a significant impact for our teenagers and young adults whose circumstances have left them to live on our streets.

With your help, we believe we can continue making a difference – enough of a difference that no child, teenager, or young adult has to call King County’s streets home.

Read the full Count Us In report here.

New HorizonsWhat You Need to Know about the 2017 Count Us In Report
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We want to get 450 youth off the streets in 100 days.

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New Horizons is honored to be part of a statewide coalition of youth service providers, led by A Way Home Washington, that have accepted a challenge to house 450 youth in King County in 100 days.

These accelerated efforts will specifically aim to house our most vulnerable: the approximately 282 young people who are not currently accessing shelter in King County and spend most of their time on the streets.

To say the least, this is a lofty goal.

But in a county that grows increasingly crowded by the day, there is a decreasing amount of low-income housing available to our most vulnerable children and youth, and we believe we have the power to do more for these young people whose lives are put on hold by the instability caused by even a brief experience with homelessness.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Because low-income housing options are limited, this effort will only be successful through the generosity of our friends and partners.

One primary way we hope to accomplish our goal of housing 450 at-risk and homeless young adults is through Accelerator YMCA’s Host Homes program.

Host Homes are those families, couples, or individuals who have a spare room in their house and are willing to host a young person for six months while they work toward their own sustainable housing. Youth housed by the program work closely with a case manager while living in a Host Home, and hosts are provided a stipend to support extra costs in addition to staff support from New Horizons and YMCA to answer questions or address concerns.

The YMCA’s extensive screening process selects youth candidates referred by case managers from places like New Horizons to be matched with potential hosts. If you’re interested in helping us house 450 youth in 100 days by becoming a Host Home, use the form below to speak with someone and learn more about the Host Homes program.

We believe we can accomplish this goal with your help. To learn more about the 100-Day Challenge, visit A Way Home Washington’s page and join the conversation on social media at #WAChallengeAccepted.


Host Homes Interest Form

How did you hear about Host Homes?
YMCA's websiteYMCA's social mediaNew Horizons' websiteNew Horizons' social mediaFlyersFriend/Word-of-mouthInternet Search

New HorizonsWe want to get 450 youth off the streets in 100 days.
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The benefits of the Nest, according to one resident

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The cube where he sleeps is called “Prosperity,” and I ask if he likes his bunk’s name. He puckers his lips in thought, then through a signature grin that tilts his chin slightly upward and narrows his twinkling eyes, tells me he approves.

“Yeah. Yeah, I like it. It’s a good word.”


Jovonni is difficult not to like. His head nods gently, rhythmically, in conversation, evidence that he’s carefully taking in everything you’re saying, while the corners of his mouth are usually pulled gently upward in a relaxed grin that puts you immediately at ease. His eyes are soft and kind, and they shine with an unhindered enthusiasm many people seem to lose as life takes unexpected twists and turns. It’s likely you’ll leave a conversation with him smiling, whether you set out to smile or not.

He is resident of the Nest, our transitional housing program, where bunks are given names like Prosperity or Greatness or Hope, rather than sanitized, impersonal numbers or letters.

Jovonni has lived there for a few months now as he works to save money and searches for his own place. He’s just graduated from the Street Bean apprenticeship program, where he worked for six months and learned to “throw ‘spro,” as the staff sometimes quips. During that time, he also started working for a local retailer.

I’d asked if he’d tell me about his experience in the Nest, mentioning that it’s the shelter’s one-year anniversary, and though momentarily hesitant, he quickly said (mostly to himself), “Well, yeah. Yeah, if it’s for the Nest. Yeah, come on.”

He lead me to his bunk and we chatted about what he likes about his living situation.

The short-term stability it’s provided has helped him think about and work toward his longer term plans, a benefit of transitional housing we’ve seen time and time again:  it’s quite difficult to manage your future needs when your day-to-day ones are a question mark.

Programs like the Nest help stabilize one part of a young person’s life by ensuring consistency – there’s no worrying about where to eat or sleep – and free him or her to look toward other resources like employment, education, or treatment.

Plus, it creates space to be human, to explore passions, interests, and hobbies – a luxury of the stably housed and gainfully employed.

The Nest has given him the freedom to be more creative and finish mastering the music he’s written when he’s not working. It’s rare to see Jovonni without his headphones on working on his latest music recordings and original writings.

“The Nest provides structure, which motivates you to keep working on your goals,” he offers thoughtfully. “I like that I can relax on the couch, work on my music, watch movies from time to time, get a shower whenever I want.”

He thinks a little more, his grin appearing again as he thinks carefully, and says it’s also taught him about sharing a space with others and caring for it responsibly.

“It’s clean, it’s quiet, a place of relaxation, but also a place to laugh and spend time with other people. It prepares you to live with roommates and teaches you to take care of your own space.”

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He graciously lets me take his photo by his cube but insists that he see it. Upon examination, he says, “Wait one second, I gotta get a hat.” He disappears briefly, taming his hair on the way out, only to reappear a moment later smiling underneath a flat-billed, vintage Chicago Bulls hat.

“Okay, now try this,” he says, planting his feet, crossing his arms and smiling, his chin tilting upward and eyes narrowing, still twinkling, again. I snap the photo, and he gives an approving “Yeah, yeah, that one.”

Jovonni politely asks to be excused if we’re done, and he goes back to his computer to finish mastering another track, doing that trotting thing people do when they’re eager to get back to something important; not quite running, but not quite walking, either.

I realize I’ve unknowingly encroached upon his free time by asking for a quick tour, and I smile knowing that he gave freely of it to humor me.

I smile, too, at the simple fact that now, he has free time to give.


Help us celebrate the Nest’s one-year anniversary this week by donating one or two of the items on its birthday wishlist on Amazon! Make it easy on yourself and put 2709 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121 as the shipping address, and we’ll unpack and sort everything for you!

New HorizonsThe benefits of the Nest, according to one resident
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Three Differences Between Youth and Adult Homelessness

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Homelessness is traumatic at any age. The streets are unstable, alienating, and insecure for anyone who must navigate a life on them, no matter how young or old.

Still, the streets affect populations differently. In our almost 40 years of work in downtown Seattle, we’ve noticed three major ways that the experiences of  homeless and unstably housed youth (ages 13-24) differ from the experiences of homeless adults: causes of homelessness, lack of social support networks, and the long-term effects of homelessness.

1 | The Root Cause of Youth Homelessness

Multiple factors  contribute to adult homelessness, such as economic instability, job loss, addiction, mental or physical disability. Most youth end up on the streets for one reason: family disruption.

Youth simply would not be on the streets if they were able to be at home safely.

Homeless youth often suffer mental, physical, or sexual abuse at home.  Even if they are not abused, these youth typically face chaotic family situations, often with parents who suffer from addiction or substance abuse.

Some youth choose to leave home to escape the chaos and abuse. Others are placed in foster care. And some are even forced to leave by families that no longer want the responsibility of caring for them.

Foster care is no panacea. More than 30% of youth placed in foster care graduate from the system at age 18 with no money, no job, no safety net, and thus nowhere to go but the streets.

Nationally, more than one in four youth who come out to their parents as LGBT are kicked out of their homes. According to the 2016 Count Us In report, some 27% of homeless youth in Seattle identify as LGBTQ.

The number one cause of youth homelessness is family disruption.

The effects of a failed family system

Many of the youth we meet at New Horizons have suffered some combination of these factors.

One young woman lived in nearly 30 homes after being taken from an abusive home and placed in foster care at age 5. When she aged out of the system at 18, she didn’t have the same training for adulthood a youth who’d grown up in one home with one or two caring parents might have received, yet she had no choice but to face life on her own.

Instead of a collection of valuable experiences gained through education, positive social relationships, group sports, arts programs, or other extracurriculars, as one might expect a “typical” 18-year-old to have, her life was a confusing amalgam of physical instability, psychiatrist visits, medications to manage the trauma of early childhood abuse, anxiety, and alienation.

Unfortunately, her story is not an anomaly. Very few youth are homeless because of their own choosing, victims to family systems that fail them, foster care systems that fail them, and streets that inadvertently become their home.

2 | Homeless Youth Tend to Lack Social Support Networks

None of us succeeds alone. We all need support from families, friends, teachers, and other supportive adults to grow up successfully. Homeless youth typically do not have these supports. They’ve lost not only their families, but also connections to schools, churches, jobs, and other community resources.

Based on our work, we’ve seen that youth require even more social support than an adult exiting homelessness because they are younger and have had less time (and likely, little opportunity) to cultivate emotional assets like self-esteem and perseverance.

Those familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that these skills are a luxury only for those who have first procured more survival-based needs like food, water, and safety, all of which are constantly in question living on the streets.

Addiction and transience increase alienation

Even if they have established support systems, youth may resort to using substances as a survival tool (e.g., to stay awake at night to avoid assault; or conversely, to sleep all day to avoid the stressors of being on the streets) and become addicted. As addiction worsens, it may strain or sever the few relationships a young person has.

Services offered through Drop-In centers can assist youth with basic needs like food, showers, and clothing, while also providing a space for youth to cultivate positive relationships with case managers and volunteers.

Still, with few connections to a home or social network, youth may further the alienation of homelessness by becoming increasingly transient, often traveling to new cities where they have no relational history or context. With no positive relationships to provide love, care, guidance, and emotional safety, youth are much more likely to stay on the streets as they seek other methods of self-soothing.

Drop-In Centers are essential in providing opportunity for youth to form positive relationships.

3 | The Opportunity to Minimize Long-Term Negative Effects of Homelessness

Finally, less time spent on the streets is less time to be permanently negatively affected by them.

If given access to the proper resources to exit the streets, a youth will suffer fewer long-term effects of homelessness than an adult who has been homeless for an extended period of time.

Homeless youth, like young people who leave home for the first time to go to college, are at a stage of their lives where they need the space for self-expression and the structure in which to figure out who they are.

We have observed that, when given structure and support (like that of our transitional housing program, The Nest), youth tend to exit the streets into employment and housing at very high rates.

The Nest gives youth the physical stability they need to focus on other needs, like finding work and permanent housing. Dignifying them with responsibility through chore assignments increases a sense of self-worth and appreciation for the space in which they live, while requiring a small fee for rent teaches them to manage their finances in an environment where it’s safe to fail.

Helping youth exit the streets quickly benefits the larger community

Research has shown that homeless or runaway youth are 50% less likely to have a high school diploma or GED, are prone to weaker health over their lifetime, and are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults than their stably housed peers.

This means that quickly assisting youth off the streets increases their ability to contribute positively to society and decreases long-term welfare costs. For example, transitional housing and care centers like New Horizons have a much lesser impact on tax-payers than necessarily robust juvenile detention centers and prisons.

Generally, when compared to homeless adults, homeless youth are much more likely to become successful and independent when connected to critical resources by minimizing their time on the streets and the streets’ negative, lasting effects on a young person’s life.


This article does not aim to suggest or minimize the necessary work many organizations and individuals are doing to help homeless adults off of the streets. We are proud to be among several organizations in Seattle working to help all individuals suffering from the cruelty of life on the streets.

To read more about youth homelessness, its causes, and potential solutions, we recommend the resources used for the information in this article:

Improving Outcomes for Homeless Youth – Social Issue Report

What Works to End Youth Homelessness – National Network for Youth

 

New HorizonsThree Differences Between Youth and Adult Homelessness
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