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Working Together to Transform Lives

Last updated: July 1, 2020, at 5:30 a.m. PT

Originally published: November 16, 2016, at 1:18 p.m. PT

Turning eighteen should be an exciting time for a young person, introducing the freedoms, choices, and possibilities associated with becoming an adult. But for youth without a support network, it can mean facing uncertainty and the reality of homelessness.

Ryan Royer never expected to find himself in that situation, but at nineteen, after falling out with his family and unable to find stable employment he struggled to find a safe, supportive housing situation that would allow him pursue his career and education goals.

“Life was moving nowhere for me and when the opportunity arose for a seasonal job processing fish in Alaska, I took it for both the money and something to put on my resume,” Ryan explains. After working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for a summer he tried to settle in Seattle with a couple friends. He thought that his recent employment history would make it easier for him to find a job.

“No employers seemed to care that in my previous job, I had weeks with over 100 hours on the clock! I began to get desperate again,” Ryan shares. “I realized that my lease was going to end in a month. I knew that after making my final rent payment all the money I had would be gone and I would have nowhere to live after that.”

When Ryan’s lease ended, he left all his belongings, aside from a backpack and some clothes, with a friend and that night was the first of many he spent outside. According to Ryan, “it didn’t really hit me then but at the point I was homeless.”

Eventually Ryan found ROOTS Young Adult Shelter where he was able to sleep and have access to job and education resources like the YMCA WAGES program, which helped him get job training with the Sanctuary Arts Center’s screen printing shop. Through the interview and resume skills training provided by WAGES, Ryan was able to find a full-time position with the PCC and was then able to find an apartment with assistance from the Y’s Next Step program.

Next Step helps young adults find and keep permanent housing by assisting with move in costs and subsidizing rent on a sliding scale, working with participants to gradually pay more of their rent costs over an established time period. “Thanks to the Next Step program I was able to find an apartment to move into in less than three weeks! I’ve never been happier in my life and have never felt more accomplished then I feel today,” says Ryan.

Essential Partnerships

With more than 5,000 young adults in King County experiencing homelessness each year, it can seem like an overwhelming and insurmountable problem. Community partners like the YMCA, Raikes Foundation, and United Way believe there is a solution to ending youth homelessness and have joined forces to ensure that if youth do find themselves in that situation, it will be rare, brief, and a one-time occurrence.

The Raikes Foundation is working to connect necessary stakeholders to develop a coordinated response and develop systematic improvements to drive lasting change. “Support from the Raikes Foundation to our community has led to a more data-driven approach to solving youth and young adult homelessness. They make strategic investments that encourage the community to work together rather than in silos,” shares Brooke Knight, Accelerator YMCA Branch Executive.

This data-driven approach will make sure more youth like Ryan are able to thrive. Because solving the problem of youth homelessness is about more than just putting a roof over someone’s head – it requires a holistic approach and a full range of supportive services to empower youth to reach their fullest potential.

Emphasis on data collection and analysis helps to clearly define the challenges and needs of homeless youth in King County, identify gaps in assistance, and also shed light on the interventions that are most effective.

Empowering Young People to Transform Their Lives

“Like the YMCA, the Raikes Foundation is committed to young people having a voice in the policies and service affecting them and is committed to elevating youth voice,” Knight explains.

Motivated by their hands-on experiences volunteering with youth focused causes, Jeff and Tricia Raikes continue to be most inspired by the young people they’ve met who are striving to become successful adults.

Their catalytic philanthropy model means taking risks and developing creative solutions to tackle to most critical issues facing young people in need. And they’ve found that when youth like Ryan are able to showcase their progress and use their voice, programs and services become better grounded in meeting the needs of underserved youth in King County.