Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative
King County - Seattle, Washington
King County Department of Community and Human Services
“The best opportunity to end homelessness in King County is to prevent it.”
Home is where the heart is. It’s where life happens. Dinner table conversations, cozy Saturday afternoons, reading nights in living rooms--homes are where families build their lives.
They’re also fundamental to healthy, loving childhoods. Warm and steady home environments provide the safety and support kids need to dream, develop, and grow. But today, many families lack the resources they need to maintain stable housing. Instead of relishing in opportunities to play and learn, the daily lives of kids in poverty are marked by chronic stress, confusion, and uncertainty.
When we think of individuals affected by homelessness and poverty, we often think of older, single adults. On a single night in January of 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that 372,417 Americans were experiencing homelessness as individuals. Of those experiencing homelessness alone, 90% of them were 25 or older.
But this is only part of the story. HUD reports that 56,342 families with children—180,413 people—were experiencing homelessness at the same time. That’s 33% of the total homeless population. And 60% of these were children under the age of 18, which means over 108,247 kids were living without safe places to learn, grow, and form their lives.
This is heartbreaking. But it’s not surprising. By the poverty guidelines, over 15 million children—21% of all American kids—live in poverty. And according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 43% of U.S. kids live in families with incomes that fall below two times the federal poverty line. Kids are disproportionately represented among the poor. In total, they make up 32% of all Americans in poverty. They’re our nation’s most vulnerable.
For families on the verge of homelessness, unsteady income streams and minimum wage jobs make it difficult to make ends meet. For low-income parents in King County, Washington, the challenges of maintaining a home and providing the basic necessities for growing kids are only intensified.
In terms of housing prices and the cost of living, King County is the most expensive county in Washington State—which is already one of the most expensive states in the nation. The median rental price for a home in King County is $2,500 per month. Add the costs of food, utilities, childcare, transportation, and schooling, and the bills of low-income families quickly become unbearable.
The Living Wage Calculator tool out of MIT helps to put the challenges of these families into perspective. For a family with one child and two working adults in King County, both adults need to maintain a full-time working schedule and earn $16.50 per hour to provide adequately for their family. For a single parent with one child, $30.30 per hour is required to cover basic expenses. But the minimum wage in King County is $12.
Without the means to pay rent, families often fall victim to evictions. And while some are able to avoid homelessness and regain their footing, evictions in tight and expensive rental markets like King County’s can be devastating. Having a record of eviction makes it more difficult to find a landlord willing to enter into a lease agreement in the future. And evictions are also abrupt and logistically challenging, which makes it difficult to maintain the routines required for busy work schedules. The disruptions and effects of eviction may lead to unemployment and homelessness. Which, in turn, may lead to poverty.
In King County alone, 763 families with children experienced homelessness in 2019. Of these families, 72 were headed by a young parent under the age of 25. And not all children exposed to homelessness are in families—1,089 homeless individuals in King County were unaccompanied youth and young adults. Homelessness is already frightening and full of immense, daily challenges. Imagine what it means to be a young person, facing it alone.
Though 97% of families experiencing homelessness in King County were housed in emergency shelters or in transitional housing, these environments do not provide the safety or stability children need to thrive. Research consistently finds that homelessness and poverty are not only negatively associated with the health and cognitive development of children, but they also negatively impact their academic performance and social lives, which frame their futures.
Children who are homeless or living in poverty are more likely to drop out of school, and they’re also more likely to become involved in crime. Without high school and college degrees, they’re less likely to find meaningful careers that pay stable, living wages. This means they’re more likely to inherit poverty from their parents and pass it on to their own kids. Poverty and homelessness go hand in hand. They’re cyclical, generational, and devastating.
Today, the majority of homeless outreach programs serve those who are already homeless. This is undoubtedly important. But if we can keep families from losing their homes in the first place, we can prevent them from falling into homelessness and entering into poverty. Which can save more than public funds. It can also save childhoods. And family dinners. And dreams.
King County’s Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative (YFHPI) is designed to offer families on the verge of eviction the support they need to maintain their homes. The program has two parts: case management and flexible financial assistance. The program’s case management services follow a model of progressive engagement, which means that case managers have the liberty to customize the level and intensity of their services to fit the specific needs of a client.
In addition to interacting with landlords and finding suitable housing options, case managers also assist families with budgeting, employment, and dependent care needs. Case managers’ ultimate goal is to develop a relationship of trust with their clients that allows them to better navigate a path to housing stability.
The YFHPI program also provides participating families with access to flexible and immediate funding that can help with their housing needs.
Does providing case management to families on the verge of eviction keep them from falling into homelessness?
- Individuals who participate in King County’s YFHPI program and receive case management and financial assistance will be more likely to maintain stable housing than those who do not.
- Participating families will also have better health and employment outcomes, and their members will be less likely to become involved in crime.
Research Study Design
The Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative is a randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of two different approaches to homelessness prevention.
To keep families from falling into homelessness, the first approach tests the efficacy of pairing case management with immediate financial assistance. The second approach tests only the efficacy of providing financial assistance.
To evaluate both approaches, a lottery is used to sort participants into one of two groups. Those sorted into the first group will receive both case management and financial assistance—YFHPI’s usual services. The second group receives only financial assistance.
At the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare the housing, health, and employment outcomes of individuals across both groups.