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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nearly $1M grant will help Volunteers of America battle youth homelessness

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 22, 2019

Spokane wants to end youth homelessness by the end of 2022.

It now has nearly $1 million and a plan.

State and local officials gathered at the Philanthropy Center on Tuesday to celebrate a $940,000 grant to expand efforts to combat homelessness among students and young adults in Spokane.

Along with Walla Walla, Pierce County and Yakima, Spokane County is one of four “anchor communities” designated by A Way Home Washington, a public-private partnership that works with the state’s Office of Homeless Youth to address youth homelessness.

The funding was awarded to Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, which provides a spectrum of services to the homeless. The nonprofit operates Crosswalk, an emergency shelter for homeless youth.

Volunteers of America will use the money to fund 10 living units of transitional housing for young people.

The nonprofit won’t actually build 10 apartments; rather, it will subsidize the leases of young people and provide them staff support until, if all goes according to plan, they take on the leases themselves, according to Bridget Cannon, director of youth services at Volunteers of America.

Spokane’s windfall is part of a $4 million in grant funding doled out through the Office of Homeless Youth and A Way Home Washington for the Anchor Community Initiative.

Washington’s first lady, Trudi Inslee, praised the Anchor model, which allows individual communities to tailor the funding to their needs. She implored the audience on Tuesday to think about “what you think works best for your community.” The goal, she added, should be to ensure “that homelessness situations are rare, brief, one time, or never” happen at all.

Homelessness across all ages has been at the center of public debate in Spokane, and the prevalence of homelessness among young people is increasingly coming to light.

A recent survey found that there are about 3,300 homeless students in Spokane County. Though few are unsheltered and sleeping on the street, scores are forced to “double up,” meaning they are sleeping on a friend’s or relative’s couch or in a spare bedroom.

Mayor David Condon noted that the new funding aligns with the city’s approach to addressing homelessness by targeting services at specific populations, such as single adults, families or young people.

“One size does not fit all,” Condon said.

Lisa Brown, the state’s commerce director, noted that the issue of youth homelessness can seem overwhelming but argued it isn’t.

“We can take that on. We can solve that problem,” Brown said.

The $940,000 figure unveiled on Monday included funding that the city had already announced earlier this year. About $366,000 in Anchor Community Initiative funds was awarded this summer to help Volunteers of America’s efforts to reduce youth homelessness.

That funding will pay for Volunteers of America to conduct outreach in Spokane-area schools and in behavioral health programs not only to help determine who is experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless but also to connect them with necessary social services.

The efforts are aimed at people between 13 and 24 years old.

By surrounding young people with services as they exit various systems of care – be it the public schools or an inpatient behavioral health program – Volunteers of America hopes to prevent them from becoming homeless.

According to a 2018 report released by A Way Home Washington, about 1,800 young people across Washington leave school or a treatment program and enter into an unstable housing situation or become homeless every year. About two-thirds of those young people are leaving a behavioral treatment program.

The grant also funds the creation and maintenance of a list of names that will provide service providers a real-time look at who is experiencing homelessness. The list, which the city will maintain, will allow service providers to track individuals’ needs and provide appropriate services.

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