What can providers do to be successful in supporting youth in a healthy, positive way?

As providers/adults who support and advocate for young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, it is our job to ensure decision-making power is in their hands, and that they can access opportunities they need and want to pursue.

We must acknowledge, understand, and support that:

  • Everything must be youth-centered and youth-led. We must always listen to and elevate youth voice.
  • All youth and young adults have resilience and potential. They know what they want and need; they might just need support from a caring adult to get there.
  • Our systems do not operate in service to young people, especially young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Yet the experience of homelessness and housing instability means a young person is more reliant on these ineffective and broken systems for support to meet their needs.
  • Youth should not be asked to bear the weight of systemic deficiencies. They should be empowered to make their own decisions and be able to pursue opportunities that align with their needs and interest.

What do providers need to be successful in supporting youth in a healthy, positive way?

Strategies and approaches

Here are a few strategies that model positive youth engagement to ensure youth voice is centered, and that we are working in support of the needs they identify.

“MI is a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change. It is designed to strengthen personal motivation for and commitment to a specific goal by eliciting and exploring the person’s own reasons for change within an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion.”


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Trauma Informed Care (TIC) is an overarching structure and treatment attitude that emphasizes understanding, compassion, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma Informed Care also looks at physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both clients and providers, and provides tools to empower folks on the pathway to stability.


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Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.


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Demographic-specific resources

Youth have complex identities and backgrounds that impact what they need as they transition out of high school. It is important to support youth at risk of/experiencing homelessness and housing instability with tailored resources. Below are some resources that may help youth who identify with specific communities. This list is not inclusive of all the different identities held by young people.

Of the 40,000 students experiencing homelessness in Washington state, 60% are students of color. Black and Indigenous youth experience homelessness as disproportionally higher rates.

Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools: Trends, Characteristics and Academic Outcomes, 2015-2019

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LGBTQ youth are 2.2X more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers. Black-LGBTQ youth report homelessness 4X the rate of White- non-LGBTQ youth.

Morton et al. 2018

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Youth who have been in foster care face additional risk factors for experiencing homelessness. By the age of 21, 33% of Washington youth who spent time in foster care experience homelessness.


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Immigrant and refugee families and youth face many systemic barriers which may increase their likelihood of housing instability. In Washington State, 5.2% of English Language Learner students and 8.8% of migrant youth experienced homelessness compared to about 3% of their non-ELL or non-migrant peers. (OSPI)

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Youth living with disabilities experience housing instability at a disproportional rate to their peers. In 2018, 11% of youth (age 12-24) with disabilities experienced housing instability.

2 Department of Social and Health Services, “DVR Service Needs for Adults,” (August, 2020) 

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Rural communities have the highest per-capita rates of student homelessness in Washington state. Young people in rural communities face different challenges than those living near cities, such as limited youth and young adult focused housing programs, public transportation, or access to regular health care.

Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools: Trends, Characteristics and Academic Outcomes, 2015-2019

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Knowing where to find others championing youth in schools and communities will amplify and deepen your capacity to support a young person experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Networking can be done at the individual student level or at a wider school/community level.
  • Explore dynamics of the individual youth’s network
    Youth Collaboratory
  • “Mapping Connections Resource. This document that Youth Collaboratory shared provides some context and guidance for implementation, as well as an Ecomap and a Circle of Support tool that you can use to help youth identify key relationships in their lives.” 

Cross System Collaboration — Connect and partner with community resource providers serving young people. Cross systems work is essential in meeting the varying needs of young people experiencing homelessness and their households. Housing crisis rarely happens in isolation and requires multiple resources and community connections to stabilize those accessing services.

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Resource mapping can be used to inform students, teachers, parents, and other community stakeholders about all the services and resources available to better support students experiencing homelessness or that are highly mobile.

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Youth Advocacy Resources 

There are young people across the United States that are working together to build a future that includes their voices, ideas, and experiences. Explore these programs to find connections.