Valuing lived experience: Young people guide nearly $7 million in state grants through Washington’s Office of Homeless Youth

Group of youth standing in a group in front of a building.

By car, bus, Amtrak train, ferry and airplane they came. Young people with lived experience of homelessness gathered in SeaTac from all over the state to participate in a weekend-long summit and evaluate dozens of applications for grants from the state’s Office of Homeless Youth.

These young people took a lead role in reviewing over $15 million in funding requests. They analyzed proposals through the lens of their own personal experience struggling with housing instability and accessing services and programs for support.

“Young people tell me that they are ready to lead…they have energy and they have creative solutions, so we’re here to help make that reality,” said Riannon Bardsley, Statewide Initiatives Manager for the Office of Homeless Youth.

The funding comes from investments made by the state legislature this year. It will support housing for young people who have previously been in foster care, behavioral health services to youth residing in shelters, partnerships with K-12 schools to help students experiencing homelessness, and community-based efforts to ensure that young people exit public systems (such as juvenile justice and foster care) into safe and stable housing.

Their evaluations, alongside those of adult subject matter experts, determined which applicants received funding.

Photo of youth Black man with a full beard and wearing a gray hat.
Johnathan Hemphill, Youth Action Board member and youth and young adult lived experience advocate, is one of 40 young people with lived experience of homelessness who evaluated grant applications to the Office of Homeless Youth resulting in $6.7 million in state funding for programs and services across Washington state.

“What was really powerful was having young people with lived experience on this magnitude being able to come together and do the work we were able to do to review applications for programs that directly impact them, their peers and their neighbors. For me, that was super powerful and I think it is a best practice. You need youth and young adults to speak truth to power and to give authentic input,” said Johnathan Hemphill, Youth Action Board member and youth and young adult lived experience advocate.

“To make effective choices about how we support any program, it is absolutely essential to listen with intention and reflect the voices and life experiences of those we aim to serve,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “I am continually amazed and grateful for the commitment and insight these young people and their peers bring to the table. Through their work, we are strengthening communities all across the state.”

Photo of young woman with dark hair in a ponytail and speaking into a microphone.
Azia, encouraged by case managers and social workers while experiencing homeless after exiting foster care, took an opportunity to engage with a focus group seeking input and feedback on systems and policies. She has now been an active advocate for seven years.

The review process resulted in a total of $6.7 million in grants through four target initiatives:

Independent Youth Housing Program provides rental assistance and case management for young adults ages 18 through 24 who have previously been in foster care or are currently in extended foster care.

Ancillary Therapeutic Behavioral Health Services provide onsite behavioral health services to youth within HOPE Centers, Crisis Residential Centers, and licensed overnight youth shelters.

Homeless Student Stability Program provides housing support services to students and their families experiencing homelessness and unaccompanied students experiencing homelessness.

System of Care grants support interventions that prevent youth and young adults from exiting publicly funded systems of care into homelessness. Publicly funded systems of care include the child welfare system, behavioral health system, juvenile justice system, and programs administered by the Office of Homeless Youth.

View the full list of grant recipients and funding

In addition to members of the Y4Y Action Board, young leaders taking part in the grant review and youth summit are active in multiple local and statewide initiatives and organizations engaged in preventing and ending youth homelessness. Among them, Washington’s groundbreaking A Way Home Washington Anchor Community Initiative, the Spokane Youth Action Board, King County Youth Action Board, the Mockingbird Society and the Steering Committee on Prevention of Youth Homelessness.

(Read more in a case study about the flagship Anchor Community Initiative in Spokane.)

Logo for Housing Stability for Youth in Courts (H-SYNC) program
The Housing Stability for Youth in Courts (H-SYNC) model is a prevention model developed by the University of Washington CoLab team in collaboration with community and county partners.

In addition to these program expansions, the Office of Homeless Youth has awarded $625,000 for the Housing Stability for Youth in Courts (H-SYNC) program. H-SYNC is designed to identify youth at risk of homelessness within the juvenile court system and refer them and their families to needed prevention, intervention, and housing services. The YMCA of Greater Seattle will serve as a lead coordinator of H-SYNC program sites in six counties.

“A stable home is the launching pad to a healthy, productive adulthood. An investment in our young people is an investment in our future. With this funding we are taking a multi-prong approach to work across sectors to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness,” said Kim Justice, Executive Director, Office of Homeless Youth.

The Office of Homeless Youth was created in the Department of Commerce by the Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act in 2015. The office’s work is guided by a 12-member advisory committee consisting of eight governor-appointed members and four state legislators. Learn more…



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