aging out of foster care

Generation Homeless: Young adults put new face on old problem


Shelters for young adults in King County are turning people away in record numbers as unemployment escalates and housing costs continue to be out of reach.

This surge in demand for shelter reveals a new face of homelessness, one fueled by the legacy of a failing foster care system and young people stranded by the crack epidemic of the late 1980s.

Tony Torres, 22, managed kidney failure and weekly dialysis treatments while homeless for four years. He recently obtained temporary housing. Photo by Mike Kane/InvestigateWest

Some of those young people are now having families of their own, and without resources, are winding up homeless. Families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. Yet the group driving this trend – young adults ages 18-24 – is generally under-counted and under-represented when solutions are envisioned. Relatively few resources are being directed to prevent them from producing new generations of homeless families.

One of the most disturbing legacies of homelessness is that it can be handed down from parent to child. Children who experience homelessness growing up are more likely to experience it as adults.

Casi Jackson is part of the problem, and part of the solution. At work at a homeless outreach center on Seattle’s Eastside, she shifts her daughter, Tiana, 7 months, on her hip and juggles a cell phone in her other hand while she fields a call from a scared-sounding mom with  no place to sleep tonight. Slender, with long curly hair, and an unflinching manner, Jackson is matter-of-fact on the phone, and sounds older than her 22 years.  She knows what it’s like to be staring down a night without shelter.

Homeless families are typically headed by young women with young children.