Seventeen-year-old Unique Wood said turning 18 can be nerve-wracking for young people staying in youth shelters in Spokane County. Turning 18 means they age out of service-filled, welcoming overnight shelters like Crosswalk and must stay at adult shelters like the House of Charity.
Wood, who is 4 months pregnant, said she is staying at Alexandria’s House, a home for young mothers, trying to break her family’s cycle of drugs, incarceration, homelessness and violence.
“I’m superconfident that my child will be nothing like me or my parents,” she said.
Wood shared her story Wednesday with people seeking to end youth homelessness in the county and across the state. Their goal is to gather data on the problem’s scope and use it to fill gaps between shelters and the services at-risk young people need to succeed.
The Anchor Community Initiative, which organizers hope will spread across Washington, will begin in Yakima, Walla Walla, Spokane and Pierce counties. It was developed by A Way Home Washington, a group that has worked with Washington first lady Trudi Inslee and the rock band Pearl Jam to raise money and awareness for homeless young people.
Matt Davis, a homeless program specialist for the city of Spokane, said the city is leading the countywide initiative and the A Way Home Washington organization will take the first steps on the project. He said the first priority is gathering data on homeless young people in Spokane because the current data gathered by local governments on homelessness does not include an accurate count of the younger population.
He said A Way Home Washington will gather information from a variety of local agencies to understand the rate at which children exit government support systems and end up homeless. It also will create a countywide list of young people experiencing some form of homelessness that will be shared across agencies.
Jim Theofelis, director of A Way Home Washington, said his organization will conduct and pay for the planning and data-gathering stage of the project, which will take from six to nine months. Theofelis said the organization not only seeks to help homeless teenagers, but also works to prevent homelessness by strengthening family networks and school support as well as ensuring there is somewhere for children to go when they are discharged from government services or custody.
Once the partnership has an accurate picture of how many homeless young people are in Spokane County and what services they may need, it can create a countywide system to ensure there are no gaps in the services available for young people.
Davis said one example of a gap in service occurs when homeless teenagers age out of the Crosswalk shelter, which serves homeless and runaway teens. He said some rehousing programs exist, but shelters such as the House of Charity and Hope House might not be the best place to send 18-year-olds.
Davis said the city and its partners hope the state Legislature will include $4 million in the state’s next budget for the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection, which would be used for the Anchor Community Initiative. They also hope businesses and nonprofits will contribute money to continue the program.
Several local public figures attended in support of the initiative, including City Council President Ben Stuckart, Mayor David Condon and state Rep. Marcus Riccelli. When addressing the audience, Condon and Stuckart said they didn’t believe shelters were the answer to solving homelessness in the long term and they were working on a variety of solutions, especially affordable housing, to decrease homelessness in Spokane.
Wood, who has been homeless on and off for years, said she is working toward long-term housing, but hopes that when other young people reach the cusp of 18, they will already know where to go and what to do because there will be a place for them.
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