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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Trudi Inslee and Jim Theofelis: Spokane County commits to ending youth homelessness by 2022

jim theofelis

At this moment, there are 13,000 to 15,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness in Washington state.

These young people are in communities across Washington, in both rural and urban areas – many of them here in Spokane County. They are our students, our neighbors, our friends and our children.

That’s why we’re proud to join with partners throughout the state, including Pearl Jam’s Home Shows Initiative, to launch the campaign to end youth and young adult homelessness in Washington.

The Anchor Community Initiative has convened a widespread and diverse coalition of nonprofits, elected officials, philanthropies and businesses who are committed to helping all young people in this state find their way home.

Under the umbrella of A Way Home Washington, the Anchor Community Initiative will create a system that is data-informed, performance-based, equity-driven and that holds young people and families at the center. Local communities need to have the resources and resolve to provide the appropriate services to all young people experiencing homelessness without hesitation or waitlists.

We call this “Yes to Yes” – when a young person is in crisis, we need to make sure there will always be services and housing available for them. Not just for tonight, but for as long as they need it.

It is a toxic myth that young people want to be out on the streets or without a permanent place to live.

This myth ignores the abuse and neglect that most young people on the streets report experiencing, the number of foster homes, different schools and lost hobbies and passions most have experienced. It ignores the fact that many are sexually coerced and exploited, and the generational impact that poverty, institutional racism and homophobia have on young people.

Now Washington is stepping up to meet this challenge. In 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Legislature established the Office of Homeless Youth, one of the few state-level agencies in the country dedicated to preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness. Together, our collective efforts can deliver on the promise to end youth homelessness.

In addition, we’re proud to have Pearl Jam’s support for ending youth homelessness – they are generously contributing the energy and enthusiasm that was built up around this summer’s Home Shows Initiative to rally around both the Anchor Communities and the effort to house all young people in King County.

In late September we joined with Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Mike McCready to announce that Spokane County will be in our initial four Anchor Communities, joining Pierce, Yakima and Walla Walla counties in working to end youth homelessness by 2022. With local leaders on the ground, we will bring all parts of these communities to the table and develop a plan that covers prevention, long-term housing, treatment services, employment and educational attainment. Eventually, we hope to expand to a total of 12 to 15 communities throughout the state.

We will listen to the true experts on homelessness: the young people who have experienced it and the front-line professionals who know what works and what doesn’t. Local communities are in the best position to do this work and the Anchor Community Initiative will support them and leave them in an even stronger position than when we arrived.

The system we build together will focus on addressing the root causes of youth and young adult homelessness to help prevent it all together. This part is very simple: If we can prevent young people from experiencing homelessness, they are significantly less likely to experience homelessness as an adult.

This is a unique point in time for Spokane and Washington state and we are positioned to be a model for the nation. With everyone coming together, we can become the first state in the country to end youth and young adult homelessness. Will you join us?

Trudi Inslee is the first lady of Washington state and the co-chair of A Way Home Washington. Jim Theofelis is the founding executive director of A Way Home Washington.

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