Highlights: #NAEH15 Ending Youth & Family Homelessness

Our region sent an impressive delegation to the national Youth and Family Homelessness Conference in San Diego last week. Twitter helped us stay in touch during the busy two days – follow our journey through a sampling of the tweets that are captured by this Storify.

Click on the image below to be directed to the Storify page. 

Storify NAEH15

Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Youth

“America’s Youngest Outcasts”: Report Finds 1 in 30 children in America are Homeless

The American Institutes for Research and The National Center on Family Homelessness came out with a report last week revealing that a staggering 2.5 million children living in the United States are homeless. That’s 1 of every 30 children in America – an 8% increase nationally from 2012 to 2013.

The report ranks all fifty states (and the District of Columbia) according to their performance in four domains related to child homelessness: extent of child homelessness, risk for child homelessness, child well-being, and state policy and planning. As you can see in the infographic below, Washington ranks fairly high in child well-being and policy and planning, but middle-of-pack when it comes to risk factors for homlessness, and low in extent of child homelessness due to our very high number of homeless children.



So, what can we do as people of faith? The report points to the need for safe, affordable housing and for wrap-around services and support for parents and children in order for families to get back on their feet and establish housing stability. This is where the faith community comes in. With a huge shortage of affordable housing, we need landlords willing to take a chance on tenants with higher barriers. We need faith communities and congregations to take the leap and walk with families who are working to transition out of homelessness.

Today, families make up 37% of the homeless population and millions of children are living without stability and without a place to call home. Read the full report to dig deeper into the causes and state of child and family homelessness.

To become part of the solution in King County (if you are or if you know a landlord), find out more about the new One Home Campaign, a local effort to develop new partnerships between nonprofits and landlords to expand housing options for formerly homeless individuals and families. Visit the One Home site at onehomekc.org.

Image: “Sentenced to One Year in School,” courtesy of adwriter, under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Landlord Liaison Youth

Public Education System: An Intro to Firesteel’s Homeless Student Blog Series

Introduction by Lisa Gustaveson, Project Manager for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project at Seattle University

553830_10200650804746093_599565699_nThe beginning of this summer, my family, friends and I committed to volunteering once a week at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and Mary’s Place Emergency Family Shelter. Our posse of volunteers take turns bringing the evening meal, and stay for an hour or so afterwards to help with the children while the moms set up their sleeping areas.

Each Monday, I find myself looking forward to our time at the shelter. The time spent with the families has changed me in subtle and startling ways, and the love and respect I have for the families and the dedicated staff who care for them has grown. Hanging out with the kids is fun for all of the volunteers; on the outside, the children seem a lot like housed kids – energetic, silly and sometimes naughty.  They thank us when we bring them strawberries and watermelon, and run to the library after dinner when they can read a little and play a lot with the teen volunteers.

Looking deeper into the eyes of the children, I can see how living in turmoil, chaos and crisis affects them. I know that every night they sleep on the floor, every meal they miss and the hours in school that are wasted because they can’t focus, will likely add up to a lifetime of struggles.

This seven part series by our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for Firesteel gives us a glimpse into how difficult it is for children living in poverty and homelessness to succeed in school. The data and stories the author, Perry Firth, shares helps us to understand the special needs of homeless students, and offers ways WE can be the catalyst for change. Please take a few moments out of your day to read this first piece, and subscribe to Firesteel for the next six posts. You won’t be disappointed.

Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Image from pixabay.com.

Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it. Image from pixabay.com.

As the new school year starts, teachers face many challenges. So do children who are dealing with homelessness and poverty. And this couldn’t be truer than for impoverished children who are also in need of special education services. With parents focusing on day-to-day survival and too busy to consistently advocate for their needs, children who are homeless may fail to receive the services they need to succeed in school.

The result is that children already harmed by their living circumstances can fall even further behind. Therefore, adults who work with children in poverty and homelessness need to understand how this environment influences academic skill and emotional development, and how it relates to special education needs.

So, we present this seven-part series on how homelessness and poverty affect the development of children, and how this can show up in the education system. Thanks to Perry Firth from Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for contributing this important series.

Written by Perry Firth, project coordinator, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness; Seattle U School Psychology graduate student

Hungry and tired, the boy squirms in his seat. Surrounded by classmates studiously working, he stares out the window, one leg anxiously thumping the side of his desk. In second grade, he has already experienced the types of stressors that dull the colors and geographies of childhood into shades and valleys of gray.

His teacher, a young enthusiastic woman standing at the front of the class, observes him. His book is opened to a happy story, but neglected. There are dark circles under his eyes, and he startles easily.

She has noticed that he seems both alienated from his peers and clearly desperate to fit in. Unfortunately, the basic social skills required to gain social acceptance don’t come easily to him.

Regulating his emotions is also a struggle. Prone to outbursts, he doesn’t communicate his needs in grade-appropriate ways.

He accumulates school absences and tardies the way other students accumulate new clothes.

Having noticed that he is also struggling in reading, she is beginning to wonder if he may have some sort of disability.

Truth is, the boy is homeless.

This account is a fictional, yet realistic, description of how a child’s homelessness may manifest in the classroom. Indeed, these struggles and outcomes related to homelessness could typify any of the more than one million homeless school children living in America today, or the 30,000 school children who are homeless in Washington state.

This scene also captures the confusion that teachers may encounter as they attempt to pinpoint the reasons that a child is struggling in school without understanding their housing situation. The teacher in this story — like many real ones — is confronted with a difficult challenge: How to differentiate whether a child is struggling because he is homeless, or because he has a disability (or both).

Classroom indicators of homelessness infographic

This problem of differentiation brings up many questions:

  • Does the child struggle to read because she’s missed so many school days, or because she has a learning difference? How has homelessness and poverty impacted her cognitive and emotional development in general?
  • How does this influence her success in the school environment?

These are all good questions. Yet, as we often encounter when seeking to tease apart environmental and genetic influences, the answers are layered, nuanced and ecological.

Homelessness in Classroom-Eco Systems Model graphic
Human beings develop within systems. From this ecological perspective, child development is influenced by everything from family functioning and genetics, to community norms and broad societal beliefs. Image from wikipedia.org.

What to expect in this series

This seven-part blog series seeks to answer the last question: the impact of homelessness on academic success. We’ll explore how homelessness and poverty affect the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children. Given that success in school is so essential to a child’s future, poverty’s influence on academic success will also be a major theme.

We’ll pay explicit attention to what school professionals and child advocates need to know, including:

  • The harmful factors that accompany homelessness and poverty, like frequent school moves and low quality housing.
  • How homelessness and poverty can create toxic chronic stress, and how this stress impacts the brain and can impair a child’s ability to develop normally.
  • How the stress of homelessness influences academic achievement and learning.
  • The unique issues school professionals face as they evaluate and try to provide services to children who are homeless.

Intersection between special education and homelessness

We’ll also delve into to the special education category “Emotional Disturbance.” Children receiving services under this category struggle with many issues, like emotional-behavioral disorders and high drop-out rates. In turn, this hinders their ability to find secure employment as adults.

Unfortunately, children who are homeless and/or living in poverty are more likely to need special education services – but don’t always get them. Therefore, we’ll highlight how trauma, scarcity and stress can affect special-education placement, and contribute to the cycle of poverty.

Useful strategies and connecting to policy

In the last two posts in the series, we will provide practical strategies that school professionals can use to ensure that homeless children get the special education services they need. Finally, we’ll give an overview of important policy and legislation that can influence how schools provide these services.

Photo: Teacher with book in classroom
Understanding how poverty and homelessness affects academic success isn’t enough; strategies which enable school professionals to meet the needs of their most vulnerable learners are also essential. Image from pixabay.com

Coming up next, on Sept. 3:  “Hungry, Scared, Tired and Sick: An Overview of How Homelessness Hurts Children.” This post will provide a foundation in some of the problems that can accompany childhood homelessness, from increased mobility and school changes, to poor-quality housing and poor physical health.

What you can do

  1. Share these posts with your friends and colleagues to increase their impact.
  2. Read related Firesteel posts, likeNo One Would Have Known I Was Homeless,” in which a young woman gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be homeless in high school.
  3. Download the brochure on helping homeless students, “Understanding Homeless Students’ Educational Rights,” newly updated for 2014-2015. This is a fantastic resource for students, parents, teachers and social workers, published by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
  4. If you’re a McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison, teacher or school staff member in Washington state, attend the upcoming training sessions hosted by Washington state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oct. 8 in Spokane or Oct. 9 in Seatac (registration required).
Advocacy Data and Reports Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Homeless Families Homelessness Data Project on Family Homelessness Seattle U Social Justice

Seattle’s Road to Housing Program

By Lindsey Garrity, Planning & Development Specialist, Community Support & Assistance, City of Seattle

Road2Housingforweb_small[1]The 2014 One Night Count found at least 730 individuals sleeping in their vehicles in City of Seattle. Seattle’s Road to Housing program (formerly known as the Safe Parking Program) helps people who are living in their vehicle access a safe place to park in program spaces hosted by faith-based organizations. Graham Pruss, the program outreach worker, talks with hundreds of vehicular residents each month to build relationships, provide information on available services, and referrals to the Road to Housing program. Jenni Lovell, the program case manager, works with vehicular residents on individual goal plans, which can include housing applications, employment, and connections to benefits, to support people to transition into stable housing.

R2H Save the DateThe Road to Housing program is a result of collaboration with Compass Housing Alliance, faith-based organizations, community partners and advocates, Councilmember O’Brien’s office, the Mayor’s Office, and the Human Services Department. We are seeking faith-based organizations in Seattle who are interested in becoming involved as program host sites, helping people transition from homelessness to housing. Currently, program host sites are concentrated in Ballard / North Seattle; however, there is great need for additional sites across Seattle, with a focus on expansion to the SoDo area and West Seattle.

In 2013, the Road to Housing program served 52 vehicular residents, helping 34 to move into a more stable living environment. So far, in 2014 (through June), the program has worked with 91 participants through case management services, and contacted 173 unique households through outreach services.


In January 2014, at least 730 people were sleeping in their vehicles in the City of Seattle. Photo: Alan Berner, Seattle Times.

If you are interested in learning more about Seattle’s Road to Housing program or becoming a program host site, contact Wayne Wilson with Compass Housing Alliance at wwilson@compasshousingalliance.org

If you are currently living in your vehicle and are interested in accessing the program, please call the Road to Housing program intake line at (206) 474-1815.


Lindsey Garrity is a Planning & Development Specialist with the Community Support & Assistance division of the Seattle Human Services Department, working on programs that support individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness to transition from homelessness to stable housing. Lindsey has been involved with the development and launch of the Road to Housing Program since its inception in 2011. 

Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data

With A Series Of Small Bans, Cities Turn Homelessness Into A Crime

  • “Camping” in Public: 34% of cities impose city-wide bans on camping in public
  • Sit/Lie Laws: 53% of cities prohibit sitting or lying down in particular public places
  • Vehicular Residency: 81 cities have laws prohibiting sleeping in one’s vehicle, a startling 119% increase from 2011
  • Food Sharing: 9% of cities prohibit sharing food with homeless people
  • Begging in Public: 76% of cities prohibit begging in particular public places.
  • Loitering, Loafing and Vagrancy: 33% of cities make it illegal to loiter in public
    throughout an entire city.
  • One example of bad criminalization policy: Orlando, Florida. 34% of homeless people in the Orlando area are without shelter beds, yet the city restricts or prohibits camping, sleeping, begging, and food sharing.

The NLCHP concludes that these laws are both costly to taxpayers and ineffective in reducing homelessness, in addition to being grossly inhumane and unconstitutional in many cases. Read the full report to learn more.


Susan St. Amour panhandles on a median in Portland, Maine. The city tried to ban loitering on medians last year, but a judge found the law unconstitutional. Photo credit: Caroline Losneck for NPR

Laws that criminalize homelessness are on the rise across the country, according to a new report by an advocacy group. The laws prohibit everything from sleeping in public to loitering and begging. Advocates for the homeless say the laws are making the problem worse.

Susan St. Amour is among those who could be affected by the new restrictions. Twice a week, she stands on a median strip at an intersection in downtown Portland, Maine, asking passersby for cash. She says she needs the money to get by.

Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Social Justice

Foster Youth and Homelessness

Judy Lightfoot strikes again with yet another great piece for Crosscut’s Kids At Risk series! In the article below, Lightfoot recounts the story of “Seven,” a now 25-year-old young woman who experienced a traumatic childhood of neglectful caretakers, anger and isolation as she bounced in and out of the foster care system. At 20, Seven managed to get into permanent housing and later found new community and opportunities through the Fostering Scholars Program at Seattle University, where she is currently pursuing a BA in Criminal Justice.

Unfortunately, Seven is the exception rather than the rule – many teens like her end up on the street when they turn 18. In Washington state, a remarkable 35 percent of teenagers who age out of foster care each year become homeless, according to a recent study. Success stories like Seven’s, Lightfoot points out, take “a village of caring, committed and patient professionals”; a supportive community, interconnected providers, and persistently compassionate individuals can make all the difference. Read below for the full article.

How to Keep Foster Youth from becoming Homeless Youth

By Judy Lightfoot, originially published 7/7/14 in Crosscut

Foster_homeless_Seven_at_Youthcare_crop_fit_300x300[1]“Seven” grew up in a repressive authoritarian cult. She was so isolated from the world, she didn’t know what TV was until she was 12. After her father was kicked out of the cult, she attended public school for the first time. “I had to stay after school so they could teach me how to read a clock,” she says.

The 21st century overwhelmed Seven. She got good marks in seventh grade, but she couldn’t sit still. “I was a loose cannon,” she admits. “I was a watcher and absorbed things [until] it was just too much. Kids who weren’t nice to me I kicked in the shins.” When puberty hit, with its hormones and identity crises, she broke down and was expelled for violent behavior.

Seven ran away from home to live with an older sister who traveled a lot for her job in the adult entertainment industry. Unsupervised, Seven started using with street kids, and eventually went missing downtown. By age 14, she was bouncing from group foster homes to juvenile detention to hospital ERs and psych wards. Antipsychotic meds cooled her down enough for placement in a more normal foster home, but her foster mom was spiteful, repeatedly telling Seven: “When you turn 18, we’ll have a nice bonfire in the street for your stuff.”

Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Seattle U Social Justice Youth

One Night in a Car, Our Family’s Story

One Night In A Car

Image courtesy of Helping Hand House, Puyallup WA.

Diane is a devoted wife, mother of two daughters and grandmother of three. She and her husband are entrepreneurs and have owned their own business for over 30 years. Diane has participated in 60-mile cancer walks, Kiwanis, Lions, and has volunteered with St Jude’s and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for better programs to prevent and eliminate family homelessness.

This is her family’s story.

One Night in a Car

Over the past year I’ve dreamt of being involved in an event where others can learn what it is like, just for one night, to sleep in your car. If nothing else, the event would increase community awareness around the many children who call the family car home. These kids wake up in their car and head off to school to return to a car that may or may not be in the same place. My family has first-hand experience with homelessness, and I believe it’s important that we join together to help homeless families move out of their cars and into permanent, affordable housing.

Inspired in part by my family’s story, One Night in a Car is a unique opportunity to taste the reality lived by hundreds of school-aged kids across east Pierce County – and the means to change it. More than an experience, One Night will directly impact kids’ lives in the context of community. Partner organizations have assembled a one-of-a-kind experience – a thought-provoking simulation of family poverty with a twist. Funds raised will directly help families out of homelessness. PLEASE join us Friday to Saturday, Aug. 22-23, at Meridian Habitat Park in Puyallup. Learn more and register at http://onenightinacar.org

Our Story

Many years ago, a CEO at a local mission told me that whenever you see a homeless person panhandling, he or she is there by choice because there are plenty of programs for people experiencing homelessness. With this understanding, though my husband and I have always been involved in our community, I never considered volunteering for any organizations that served the homeless – it just didn’t hit home for me.

Florida Outreach Program Helps Homeless Families Cope

Photo courtesy of Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry

 A year ago everything changed; our youngest daughter, a single mom with three children, became homeless. She had been working as a medical administrative assistant for more than five years when she became ill. Not able to work, she tried taking a two-week unpaid leave of absence. After two weeks, she still couldn’t work, so she lost her job. Without pay, she lost her home and eventually lost her car. Like many families, we didn’t have the space or resources to bring them into our home. On Mother’s Day 2013, I helped her pack up her stuff, reassuring her that I had learned that if we call 211 they would be able to help us.

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