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Annual homeless conference highlights youth input

Annual homeless conference highlights youth input

YAKIMA, Wash. - Homeless service providers, advocates, funders, local government and current homeless people are working together to figure out solutions to end homelessness.

It's a big goal, but almost 800 people came to the annual Ending Homelessness Conference and organizers said the large turnout shows that homelessness is increasing but also that more people want to work to solve the problem.

Executive Director of Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Rachael Myers said one of the biggest problems of homelessness is our youth.

She said there is not one cause for youth homelessness but it has drastically increased over the last few years.

Last school year across Washington, state schools reported almost 40,000 kids were homeless.

"It impacts their education, it impacts their health, it impacts every aspect of their lives," Myers said. "To not have a permanent, safe, affordable place to live."

Executive Director of the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Kim Justice said the key to ending homelessness is hearing from those who lived it, such as the youth.

"Young people often tell us that they want to be heard," Justice said. "We're in charge of making funding decisions and policy changes. Young people want their voices reflected in that, their experiences are the most important thing."

Justice said they are working to prevent youth homelessness by trying new approaches of listening to teens. She said the teens are asking for support in education, jobs, their physical health and for treatment.

But most importantly, Myers said to end homelessness people need a roof over their heads.

"Subsidized housing is critical so our state legislature invested $107 million in the housing trust fund this year," she said. "That'll create homes for about 3500 people. It won't solve the problem but it's a really important piece of the funding that's necessary."

She said in order to work to solve homelessness they need to get people into homes and need money and community support to do so.

In Yakima, there are youth homeless services such as Rod's House and they are launching a new host home program that will allow families to open their homes to teens experiencing homelessness.

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