Over the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on a quote by one of my favorite writers, Ann Lamott. “Hope begins in the dark,” she wrote, “the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.”
Lamott’s words seem particularly relevant for those of us engaged in the difficult but critical fight to end homelessness.
Homelessness has been a distressing problem in Washington state for a long time. But over the last few years the number of adults, families, and children sleeping outside in brutal conditions has risen to shocking levels. In large and small communities from Spokane to Seattle, the hardships faced by so many people are impossible to ignore.
Our communities are struggling to understand why the problem is getting worse. We know that skyrocketing housing costs, lack of mental health resources, and many other societal issues are contributing. At a forum last week sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, a prominent consultant also blamed our region’s “acceptance” that we will always have homelessness.
Let me be clear, there is absolutely no “acceptance” in Washington state around homelessness, particularly with regard to the 13,000 young people who are on their own and experienced homelessness last year. Our community harnessed the creativity that changed technology, aerospace, retail and how coffee is sold. We can use that same energy to solve homelessness. These kids deserve our best thinking and constant attention to this seemingly intractable problem.
A great example of the energy needed will be present tomorrow in Olympia, when hundreds of young people from around Washington will descend on our state capitol for Youth Advocacy Day. This annual event is put on by The Mockingbird Society, which the Campion Foundation has been proud to support for the past four years. Youth Advocacy Day demonstrates the power of youth voice in standing up for something that we, as a state, should believe in strongly —that every young person deserves a safe place to sleep at night and access to opportunity.
These Mockingbird advocates have a tremendous track record. Two years ago, they helped change the way our state responds to youth homelessness by encouraging Governor Inslee and the state legislature to create the Office of Homeless Youth, which now provides leadership and support to ensure young people across our state have a safe place to sleep.
Every time I talk to a Mockingbird youth advocate, I am filled with hope. Hope that the leadership skills the young people develop at Mockingbird will turn them into lifelong advocates for themselves and their communities. Hope that their voices will be heard loud and clear by decision makers in Olympia and beyond. Hope that we can we can seize on the momentum building in our state to help every young person find a home.
Our support for the Mockingbird Society is just one piece of our long-term commitment to end homelessness. As awareness of the magnitude of homelessness in Washington state grows, more light shines on the complex challenges faced by people who lack stable housing. We believe that we can seize on this awareness to make sure our elected leaders respond to this crisis.
I also believe that we face a unique opportunity to combat youth homelessness. There has never been so much passionate commitment or political will to protect our most vulnerable young people. In Washington, thanks to the tremendous leadership of Governor Inslee and our state legislature, we’ve developed the most robust plan to end youth homelessness in the country. This landmark plan will build a coordinated, statewide network of services to ensure that young people in crisis receive support. It makes the commitment that our state systems—foster care, juvenile justice, chemical dependency treatment and others—will do a better job addressing the needs of the 1,781 exiting these programs that end up homeless within a year. The government is stepping up to the plate. But we know we need to do more.
That’s why we are actively supporting several campaigns that are uniting philanthropists, service providers, young people, and advocates working to address homelessness among young people between the ages of 12 and 24.
Last June, we joined the national movement to end youth homelessness, A Way Home America. Inspired by the goal that former President Obama set to end youth homelessness by 2020, we’re partnering with leaders from across the country to share best practices and stories of communities doing great work.
In August, we launched A Way Home Washington, a campaign to build political will in our state to find homes for the nearly 13,000 youth and young adults who are on their own and struggling with housing. A Way Home Washington is focused on building public awareness, connecting communities across the state working on youth homelessness, and providing a unified advocacy voice on behalf of homeless youth in Olympia.
We know schools play a huge role in identifying students and families in crisis. In September, we partnered on Schoolhouse Washington to support the 40,000 homeless students in Washington state. This campaign creates innovative partnerships between schools and housing providers and gives schools the support they need to help struggling students.
Each of these campaigns is playing a critical role to piece together the resources and partnerships we need at the federal, state, and local level for young people to find stable housing and get on the path to a successful adulthood. If we can successfully intervene with young people experiencing homelessness, we believe we can prevent lifelong struggles with poverty, addiction, and mental health challenges.
Each of these efforts demonstrate why I have hope, now more than ever, that we can meet the goal set by President Obama to end youth homelessness by 2020. It is this hope that drives me to action every day. I invite you to join us in this work and add your voice to the growing movement across our state and our nation. Visit A Way Home Washington, A Way Home America and Schoolhouse Washington to learn more about how you can help end youth homelessness.