Ending youth homelessness is a shared goal of One Roof Foundation and Raikes Foundation. Working together will create stronger awareness and connection of providers — By Bob Condor
Where there is hope, there’s a way to end youth homelessness. As it turns out, a network of organizations in Washington state are providing just such hope – plus real progress – in a determined effort to end youth homelessness.
There is plenty of praise to go around, including the work of 22-years-strong The Mockingbird Society (dedicated to transforming foster care and ending youth homelessness) and the King Country Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (local shining example of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program encouraging communities to implement coordinated community approaches to end homelessness among youth aged 14 to 24).
Paula Carvalho was part of The Mockingbird Society for five years, overseeing youth programs and bringing a vital perspective because she experienced foster care and youth homelessness firsthand. Among other qualifications, she was the first-ever “Fostering Scholar” to graduate from a new program at Seattle University.
Early in her career, Carvalho observed how certain programs, like those organized by Mockingbird Society or HUD, were making a difference. But Carvalho came to conclude there wasn’t enough collaboration and connection among different groups addressing the youth homelessness crisis in Washington.
Enter the local Raikes Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit with a charter of “working toward a just and inclusive society where all young people have the support they need to reach their full potential.” The foundation, started by Microsoft executives Jeff and Tricia Raikes who met and married during their time at the software giant, targets youth homelessness as one of its pillar pursuits.
“Raikes really supported our field to be a little more holistic, looking at homelessness as not a system within itself, but the failure of many systems,” said Carvalho. “The reason I knew about the Raikes Foundation is because it is one of the largest funders for [The Mockingbird Society] organization.
“When Raikes stepped into youth homelessness, it was a drastic shift in our community. For the first time there was a funder looking to make connections between different systems.”
“We had all of our foster care providers, we had all of our homeless services providers, all of our juvenile justice providers. Raikes was a philanthropic agency showing how all those providers were interrelated.”
Carvalho herself was duly impressed and inspired by the Raikes mission and vision. Three years ago, she joined the foundation as program officer for youth homelessness. She has made it a point to include “supporting young people with lived experience” to bringing formerly siloed groups to come together as “one unified group.”
In King County, roughly 1,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults experience homelessness on any given night. Some 70 percent of these young people sleep outside due to lack of shelter or housing. Advocates for these youth add that “couch surfing” youth are also homeless.
“We talk about youth homelessness as kind of a hidden population,” said Casey Trupin, director of youth homelessness strategy for the Raikes Foundation. “When you think of homelessness, we generally don’t think of youth or young adults – we instead might think of older adults, veterans, sometimes even families with young children sleeping in public places.”
“But when it comes to young people, I think oftentimes they are kind of invisible, right? We know they’re not likely to sleep in adult shelters. We know they’re less likely to be sleeping outside. Young people are resilient, they build community pretty easily among each other. So couch surfing is one way that young people kind of get by.”
Sleeping on the sofa, of course, is not a long-term solution. One Roof Foundation hopes to work with the Raikes Foundation to bring more visibility to the issue of youth homelessness and reduce such ratios as one of three come from foster care backgrounds, three of five are BIPOC, one of four have been kicked out of their homes, one of two are not getting treated for mental health issues.
“Young people do not choose the streets,” said Trupin. “It is not a safe place.”
During a recent phone conversation, Trupin was eager to provide evidence youth homeless is trending lower in Seattle and across the state. He credited the HUD-funded King County youth homelessness demonstration project (granted in 2017) as a catalyst to “allow our region to pilot innovative strategies to address youth homelessness.”
Trupin said Washington’s Office of Homeless Youth, created in 2015, is “undoubtedly the strongest state office addressing youth homelessness in the country. He specifically praised work in not only King County but Spokane and Walla Walla as other examples.
“In 2015, we weren’t coordinated nor effective,” said Trupin. “In 2022, all but seven counties in the state had coordinated efforts solving for youth homelessness.”
While Raikes is unifying providers and proving strategic thinking to accompany funding, there remains a need to reach a broader audience to generate more awareness about youth homelessness, what it is and what can be done to eliminate it.
“You need organizations who have a large stage, who reach a lot of people,” said Trupin. “It can be sports teams like the Kraken or businesses. You need folks who have a big audience because awareness is critical.
“I think philanthropic [nonprofits] and sports teams and corporations can play a unique role where they can bring more people together to figure out what everybody is working on and making sure we can do it in a way that maximizes all of our resources, our skills and our audiences. It gives the homelessness providers the space and time and money to figure that out.”
This issue has been a priority for the Seattle Kraken from the very beginning. “As we looked to enter this market as a sports franchise, we identified youth homelessness as a humanitarian crisis we should try to help solve … together with Climate Pledge Arena we made a holistic 10-year commitment to [nonprofit] Youth Care that includes funding, visibility, and most importantly – jobs for their youth. Working with the Raikes Foundation is another important step.” said Tod Leiweke, chief executive officer of the Seattle Kraken.
“After we launched One Roof Foundation in 2020 and formalized our youth homelessness pillar, we started reaching out to the community to find out who was leading in this work,” said Mari Horita, Kraken senior vice president for social impact and government and executive director of One Roof Foundation. “Everyone pointed us to the Raikes Foundation. We called them and since then they have been sharing their expertise and connections to help us do our job better.”
Carvalho and Trupin both expressed appreciation and excitement about the opportunity to work with One Roof Foundation, the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena. Carvalho said she looks forward to “how we can tell the whole story” and “take a deeper dive into system that are still inflicting trauma on young people, specifically young people of color and young people who identify at LGBTQ+.”
“We’re definitely making progress,” noted Trupin. It goes back to everybody having a role. The Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena have big audiences, making it easier to touch lives. It’s like a public address system for the effort to end youth homelessness, such as huge reach.”