A new piece of state legislation may lead more homeless and runaway youth to seek shelter with service agencies such as Eastside-based Friends of Youth (FOY).
Senate Bill 5147 — passed by a vote of 49-0 in the state Senate and 89-7 in the state House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 27 — restores the 72-hour notification period allowed for licensed youth shelters to notify a parent or legal guardian about the status of a youth younger than 18 who is seeking shelter at the agency. The legislation will go into effect 90 days after Inslee's signing it into law.
FOY President and CEO Terry Pottmeyer said this will affect their Youth Haven shelters, which have a boys campus in Kenmore and a girls campus in Bellevue. FOY also has a young adult shelter — The Landing — in downtown Redmond for people ages 18-24.
TIME TO STABILIZE
A previous law had set the notification period to 72 hours but a sunset provision that went into effect in July 2012 brought it back down to eight hours. This shorter time period means agency employees have been required to contact a youth's parents or family within eight hours of their arrival at the shelter. With most youths arriving at night, this typically meant their parents would be contacted first thing the next morning, if not sooner, Pottmeyer said.
"Runaway youth now can feel more confident about seeking help with an emergency shelter such as Youth Haven, when they know that parental notification does not have to take place immediately," she said in a press release. "Young people in crisis need an opportunity to have a hot meal, talk to a counselor and get a full night’s sleep before efforts at family reunification can be productive. The extended notification period will give our youth shelter staff more options for providing services and resources that will help keep vulnerable kids off the street."
For example, Pottmeyer said a few years ago, a 17-year-old boy arrived at their boys shelter after he was in a physical fight with his father. They young man had 72 hours to regroup and calm down before FOY contacted his father. Once they contacted his father, Pottmeyer said they received permission to house the 17-year-old at the shelter while he worked toward stability with social workers. After 21 days, the teen went back home to his father.
In addition to helping the youths, FOY also provides services to help parents during tough times.
"It's challenging to parent teenagers," Pottmeyer said.
Licensed shelters such as those run by FOY require parent permission to house minors, otherwise they would have to turn away the runaway or homeless youths. Pottmeyer said in addition to allowing time for involved parties to regroup after a youth has left home, the 72-hour notification period also gives them time to locate a translator if needed in cases where English is not the first language.
"Eight hours is just not a lot of time (to accomplish this)," she said.
WITH GOOD NEWS COMES THE BAD
While the restored 72-hour notification period has been good news for FOY, the agency is facing a 5 percent cut in federal funding due to last week's federal sequestration, meaning they will need to reduce cost by about $102,000. These cuts will affect programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) such as Youth Haven, transitional housing programs for homeless young adults and pregnant and parenting young mothers, foster home programs, residential group homes for youth younger than 18 and street outreach case management for homeless and at-risk youth.
"It's a lot of impact for our agency," Pottmeyer said.
She said FOY is currently preparing internally to figure out how to address these cuts and how to make up the costs. The big challenge, Pottmeyer said, is the uncertainty about what will be cut, though they are assuming the 5 percent applies across the board.
"There just isn't enough information," she said.
Various federally funded agencies and departments have required employees to take furloughs — leave without pay — but Pottmeyer said some FOY programs require 24-hour staffing and the agency does not have the flexibility for that option. This would have them closing programs, which she said, "wouldn't keep kids safe."
These cuts come just weeks before FOY's Celebration of Youth Luncheon on March 15. This is the agency's annual fund-raiser with donations going toward all of their programming. Pottmeyer said their goal is to raise $200,000 but with the federal cuts, it essentially brings their goal up to $300,000.