Tacoma, Washington: Preparing Youth and Young Adults for a Second Chance
In 2022, more than 800 young people between the ages of 12 and 24 experienced homelessness in Pierce County, Washington. Many youth end up on the streets because of neglect, abuse, or discrimination in their home environment. Those who are in foster care often have nowhere to go once they turn 18. Without a stable living environment, youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are more likely to engage in risky behavior and are more vulnerable to assault or abuse. They also are more prone to substance abuse, mental disorders, and suicide. Homelessness naturally leads to significant disruptions in education, which also can have long-term consequences. People of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are significantly more likely than their peers to experience homelessness as youth and young adults. To serve these vulnerable populations, the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) developed the Arlington Drive Youth Campus in Tacoma, which opened in the summer of 2020. The development, which won the Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Chairman’s Award in 2021, provides a temporary housing center for youth and an apartment building for young adults. Onsite wraparound services support both populations. By helping unemployed young adults find jobs or homeless teenagers improve school grades, the Arlington Drive Youth Campus is fulfilling its primary goal to offer residents "a second chance at a life without exploitation."
Arlington Drive Youth Campus
According to Sandy Burgess, THA’s director of administrative services, THA purchased the campus’ 3.5-acre site primarily because of its location: approximately 3 miles south of downtown Tacoma, served by public transportation and within walking distance of schools, community centers, and a health clinic. The campus contains a one-story residential structure and a four-story apartment building, each staffed by organizations with extensive experience serving different populations. The single-story building, the Crisis Residential Center, has 12 beds for youth aged 12 to 17 years old and multiple common areas, including a demonstration kitchen and dining area; a library with study rooms; and a patio with a grill, basketball court, and chairs. The 4-story building, Arlington Apartments, has 58 one- and two-bedroom apartments for young adults between 18 and 24 years old. Half of the units are reserved for households making up to 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), 25 percent are for those earning up to 40 percent of AMI, and 25 percent are for those earning up to 60 percent of AMI. In response to feedback from young adults during the design phase of the development, Arlington Apartments includes a multipurpose community room, a computer room, clinical space, and a patio with gardening areas.
Most of the funding for the $22 million development consisted of federal low-income housing tax credits (table 1). The state also provided approximately $5 million from the Housing Trust Fund, which the Washington State Department of Commerce administers. The commerce department also funds services for both populations. The city and county provide additional funding for services provided by Community Youth Services. Project-based vouchers support rents for the young adult apartments.
Table 1: Arlington Drive Youth Campus Financing
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||$13,637,000|
|State of Washington Housing Trust||5,090,000|
|Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program||750,000|
Accommodations and Services for Two Populations
The youth residents of the Crisis Residential Center were those who had run away or were removed from their previous homes because they were neglected, abused, or lived in an unsafe environment. Some LGBTQ+ residents did not feel accepted by their parents or caregivers. Other youth experienced disruptions in their foster homes. Residents of the center, who generally stay for 15 days, can be referred through multiple channels. The Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families placement desk refers to youth who are already in the state system. Other youth are referred by school counselors, parents, or shelters. Community Youth Services manages the center and supplies food and physical and mental health care. Staff also provide educational and emotional support, help residents develop life and social skills, and organize social activities.
Similarly, the young adult residents in Arlington Apartments had experienced homelessness, were on the verge of homelessness, or were transitioning out of foster care. Some of the residents of Arlington Apartments are couples, and roughly one-third of the development’s households are parents of babies and toddlers. In its first 21 months, the apartments housed 71 young adults, more than 80 percent of whom were from Pierce County. Approximately three-quarters of the residents are people of color, and nearly 40 percent identify as LGBTQ+. The YMCA of Greater Seattle’s Social Impact Center provides the development’s residents with a case manager and support services such as counseling for stress, anxiety, or depression and interventions for substance use and addiction disorders. Staff also help residents prepare résumés and cover letters for job applications and conduct practice interviews. Entrepreneurial training is available for residents who want to start their own business.
As of mid-2022, the Crisis Residential Center had successfully rehoused 114 youth into safe and stable housing, a success rate of more than 90 percent. These youth reunited with their immediate families, moved in with other relatives or a foster family, or transitioned into independent living if they were old enough. Other successes have not been formally quantified but are apparent to the onsite staff. For example, according to Avriel Burlot, the program director for the Crisis Residential Center, some residents have reported getting their first full night sleep in years. Residents have also expressed appreciation that staff regularly ask how they are doing. Of the Arlington Apartments residents who have moved, 85 percent relocated to stable housing and secured jobs. Also, nearly 40 percent of current residents of Arlington Apartments are employed, which is almost double the number of employed residents at the time the development opened. This early evidence suggests that THA has so far achieved its goal of providing its clients with housing and a second chance at a healthy and stable life.