Crosscut recently featured NorthStar Advocates’ relentless efforts to bridge the critical housing gap for young individuals exiting inpatient behavioral health treatment. The article sheds light on the struggles faced by youth and young adults, emphasizing the urgent need for stable housing post-treatment. NorthStar Advocates Executive Director Jim Theofelis expressed, “If we are serious about solving homelessness, inpatient treatment is just the beginning of the journey. We need safe housing to get people back on track.” The spotlight underscores NorthStar Advocates advocacy for Substitute House Bill 1929, aiming to provide transitional housing and comprehensive support beyond inpatient treatment, fostering healing and successful community reintegration. The full article can be accessed below or here:

https://crosscut.com/politics/2024/03/most-wa-youth-exiting-mental-health-treatment-face-homelessness

MOST WA YOUTH EXITING MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT FACE HOMELESSNESS

SHELTER RESOURCES ARE SCARCE FOR UNHOUSED YOUNG ADULTS COMPLETING
INPATIENT CARE. HB 1929 WOULD ESTABLISH AT LEAST TWO RESIDENTIAL
PROGRAMS FOR THEM.

By Scarlet Hansen / Crosscut.com

March 1, 2024

At 17 years old, Vy was already navigating homelessness alone. But
after inpatient behavioral health treatment, Vy thought they would
receive the support and services needed to get back on their feet.
Instead, they were propelled back into homelessness.

For people exiting inpatient mental health treatment, access to safe
and reliable housing is critical for their continued healing and
re-integration into society. This is particularly true for young
people. And when they don’t have a place to live upon discharge,
resources are sparse in Washington and elsewhere.

“These are young people who made the courageous decision for their
mental health or substance-use disorder, and their reward is to be
discharged to emergency shelter, a drop in center that has no beds, or
worse,” said Jim Theofelis, executive director of NorthStar
Advocates, at a public hearing before the House Health Care and
Wellness Committee on Jan. 16.

A 2023 report from the Washington Department of Social and Health
Services found that within 12 months after exiting inpatient
behavioral health treatment, 78% of young adults aged 18-24 become
homeless.

Those working to address Washington’s homelessness crisis believe
these numbers send a clear message: Washington must create housing
interventions for this group of people.

House Bill 1929 would allocate tax dollars to the Health Care
Authority (HCA) to support existing nonprofit or tribal community
organizations in establishing at least two residential programs on
both sides of the state, offering 90 days of housing for young people
aged 18-24 who have recently completed an inpatient behavioral health
program and do not have long-term housing.

In working with existing organizations, proponents say the program
will be culturally responsive to the communities they are serving.

In addition to providing stable housing, the program would offer peer
support, medication management, and behavioral health services with
the goal of ensuring successful re-integration into the community.

Vy, who asked that their last name not be published for privacy
reasons, told legislators at the Jan. 16 hearing that an extra 90 days
of support would’ve made a significant difference in their healing
and re-integration into society

Prime sponsor Rep. Julio Cortes, D-Everett, said that when he was
approached by Theofelis, who proposed the idea after dedicating
decades of his life to addressing youth homelessness, he was intrigued
given his own experiences working in teen and young-adult shelters.

“I did see firsthand how often we fail young people by not
supporting through a full process with safe housing and supportive
services,” Cortes said.

Cortes said that while programs providing housing and supportive
services do exist, they often cut off eligibility when a person turns
18, which may explain in part why homelessness numbers are so high for
young people aged 18-24.

“There are quite a bit of services for youth, but I think we’re
recognizing … that young adults also need that support,” Cortes
said. “That’s the gap we need to make sure we close.”

Proponents of the bill described the current landscape to lawmakers
during public hearings, urging them to intervene in this cycle of
homelessness.

Theofelis said that although emergency shelters, where many young
people are currently sent after treatment, do serve a necessary
function, they aren’t designed to support a person’s sobriety,
medication management or mental health conditions.

Young people have told him how maintaining their sobriety, staying on
top of their medication, and continuing to heal post-inpatient is
difficult in this environment because temporary shelters usually lack
adequate supportive services.

Proponents of the bill say that when young people are discharged into
emergency shelters or back onto the streets, they risk the progress
they made during inpatient treatment.

“I believe that one of the most dangerous times in a person’s
recovery journey is the day they leave an inpatient program and return
to the same environment they were in before,” addiction recovery
advocate Sarah Spier said at the Jan. 16 hearing. “Young people …
invest a great deal of hope and personal work, and all of that is
risked when a young person is discharged without a support program.”

The program established by HB 1926 might even encourage young people
to enter inpatient programs, since they know they would have somewhere
stable to land after their treatment, explained Theofelis and others
who testified.

Cortes said the bill has bipartisan support, with the main concern
being that the program isn’t big enough, allocating funding for only
six to 10 beds in at least two locations on each side of the state.

Cortes said that while six to 10 beds is just a drop in the bucket, he
hopes it will be scaled up in the future.

“When you’re trying to do a system-level change, you want to make
sure both sides of the state are covered and prove that it works, and
then we hope to come back and start expanding,” Theofelis said.

Cortes said he has engaged in conversation with community and tribal
organizations, who are excited about the opportunity to help reach
more young people if the program is scaled up in the future.

In Washington and nationally, the number of people experiencing
homelessness has reached record highs since the pandemic, largely
driven by rising housing costs. According to federal data,
homelessness in Washington increased nearly 20% between 2007 and 2023.

Cortes said that although this program may make only a small dent in
the issue, it’s part of a wave of preventative measures needed to
chip away at the issue of homelessness.

House Bill 1992 unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday and now
awaits a signature from Gov. Inslee before becoming law.

“If we are serious about solving homelessness, inpatient treatment
is just the beginning of the journey,” Theofelis said. “We need
safe housing to get people back on track.”

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Sarah Spier
Author: Sarah Spier