Homeless counts will have taken place in every county across the country by the end of January. In this series, “Everyone Counts,” we’ll explore the importance of these counts and hear what impact they had on some of the thousands of volunteers in Western Washington. Today, Ashwin from Seattle University shares insights from the Count Us In homeless youth and young adult count–a population which has only recently been counted!
By Ashwin Warrior, Project Assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness; Senior, Seattle University.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, the doors to the basement of University Congregational Church in Seattle’s University District swing open, and the youth flow in out of the cold.
They are greeted by warmth and smiles, offered dry clothes and small sets of toiletries, and —perhaps most importantly—fed a warm meal.
Since 1987, the non-profit organization Teen Feed has been providing regular meals to the University District’s homeless youth population. In 2011, the organization served more than 13,200 meals to 690 individual youths in need.
Tonight, however, is about more than food. As the youth sit down to an enchilada dinner, volunteers disperse among the crowd, clipboards and pens in hand.
Teen Feed is one of the providers at the center of King County’s third annual Count Us In initiative, an effort started in 2011 to better count youth and young adults who are unstably housed or homeless. This is the first time that Count Us In has been aligned with the One Night Count in King County.
The effort is led by a steering committee that comprises of United Way of King County, the City of Seattle, King County and youth & young adult providers. The goal is to end homelessness among youth and young adults – “unaccompanied youth” ages 12-24 – by 2020.
Volunteers and staff interviewed youth and young adults at centralized sites around the county, including libraries, drop-in centers and meal programs. Some providers also went into the community to do outreach and find the young people. The survey they used includes questions such as where the young person slept the night before, but also gets into some of the major causes of homelessness among this group, including whether the young person has ever been in foster care.
The U.S. Interagency Council (USICH) selected King County and Washington state as one of nine locations to participate in a national pilot to collect data on youth homelessness.
Data gathered from Teen Feed and numerous other youth agencies across King County, including Auburn Youth Resources, Friends of Youth and YouthCare’s Orion Center, will be added to the One Night Count estimates and reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It will also be used to better tailor youth services across the county.
As one worker of the night, Alex Okerman of the YMCA’s Young Adult Services, explains, “It’s really essential to understanding homelessness. If we’re going to try and do something to stop it, by asking questions about these young adults and what their past experiences are like…we can get to the root of some of the issues.” Hear more of his thoughts below:
Volunteer Erin Maguire works on youth programs for Catholic Community Services. She said that the Youth Count provides important information that she uses all the time.
“The more than we understand the issue from young people that we’re hearing from tonight, the more we can improve our programs and increase our services to them,” Erin said.
Many locations also hosted a sleepover for the youth who participated in the Count.
The second Count Us In, in 2012, recorded a conservative number of 685 unstably housed youth and young adults in King County. Preliminary results from Count Us In will be available soon; watch for more here on Firesteel.