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Homeless Youth in Seattle: Planning and Policy-Making at the Local Government Level

NCJ Number
Journal of Adolescent Health Volume: 12 Issue: 7 Dated: special issue (November 1991) Pages: 519-527
D H Smart
Date Published
9 pages
Youth homelessness is a concern in Seattle (Washington) with as many as 2,000 on the street in a year's time, rendering Seattle's service system is overburdened and poorly coordinated.
According to a 1985 study of 640 youth in King County who were determined to be absent from their legal residence during a 12-month period, the average ages for girls and boys were 15.6 years and 16.2 years, respectively. More than half of the youth reported a history of physical or sexual abuse, and more than half had dropped out of or been suspended from school. Of the 640 youth, 63 percent were involved with drugs or alcohol, and 43 percent had been involved with the juvenile justice system. Seattle's Health Care for the Homeless project provides assessment and screening, nursing care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and referral and followup. The continuum of care for homeless youth, funded by Federal, State, county, and city governments, includes preventive and early intervention efforts, emergency assistance, stabilization, and transitional services. Despite Seattle's efforts to deal with the problem of homeless youth, a number of issues work against the community. The responsibility for helping youth and their families rests with many individuals and organizations, but there is little consensus on functions and duties. In addition, different sectors of the community hold opposite views on how best to intervene with young people who are chronic runaways or on the street. A policy framework to address the needs of homeless youth is recommended that focuses on a regional network of services, filling identified gaps in the service system, programs that are sensitive to ethnic and cultural concerns, and mechanisms that increase coordination within the system and improve the continuum of services. 14 references and 4 figures


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