Apr 4, 2024 - News

Youth homelessness in WA dropped 40% in 6 years, report says

Illustration of a key hanging off of a life preserver.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Washington saw a significant drop in youth homelessness over six years, according to a new report, something advocates say was due in part to new strategies, including emergency cash grants for youth in the margins.

Why it matters: Adults living without stable housing often had their first experience with it as young people, said Casey Trupin of Raikes Foundation, which co-funded the report.

  • Prevention not only decreases individual trauma, it results in significant savings in the form of lower criminal justice, health care and public support costs, he told Axios.

What they found: Between 2016 and 2022, homelessness among people ages 12–24 in Washington decreased by 40% from nearly 24,000 to just over 14,000, according to the report by the state Office of Homeless Youth — which was created in 2015 — and A Way Home Washington.

  • Making one-time immediate cash grants averaging about $1,900 to young people on the verge of homelessness had a huge long-term impact, per the report.
  • The cash was typically used for apartment deposits and car repairs.
  • One year later, more than 90% of the youth who received money were stably housed.

Of note: The report is based on data taken over years from multiple sources, including student counts, one-night counts and information from the state Department of Commerce about Medicaid and homeless service utilization.

Reality check: Due to the very nature of homelessness, Sara Rankin, a professor of law and the director of homelessness advocacy at Seattle University, told Axios that in general, all data is essentially "guesswork when you are trying to measure something that can't be measured."

  • Also, young people, especially those who are couch-surfing or have reason to hide, are notoriously hard to count, said Trupin.

Follow the money: The Schultz Family Foundation gave $1.1 million for the cash grants in 10 Washington communities.

  • Donations can fund ideas that legislators won't until they prove successful, said Schultz spokesperson Zack Hutson.

What they're saying: "Youth homelessness is an urgent crisis. But it is a solvable problem," Sheri Schultz, from the foundation, said in a written statement.

  • "Showing up for young adults starts with compassion, empathy, and love, and requires ensuring they have everything they need to reach their full potential."

What's next: The state's prevention efforts inspired a federal program that's being rolled out in 11 communities nationwide, said Trupin.


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