GovernmentHealthInvestigative Reports

Homeless Young Adults Need Specialized Job Training

By September 16, 2010November 21st, 2023No Comments

InvestigateWest interns Emily Holt and Cassandra Little, both 2010 graduates of Seattle University, spent three months working on a project about family homelessness as part of Seattle University’s Journalism Fellowship on Family Homelessness. Seattle University received funding for the fellowship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. InvestigateWest’s full project on family homelessness will be published this fall.

InvestigateWest reporter Carol Smith worked closely with Holt and Little as they developed sources. Smith, who has years of experience reporting on complex social issues, mentored the Seattle University fellows as they explored different aspects of homelessness. Their work took each of them into the field where they spent hours observing and interviewing subjects for their stories. Here’s a look at some of their work:

Young adults make up a fourth of the homeless population in Washington, yet very minimal research has been conducted on the job training needs of this population.

With unemployment high, and unemployment for young adults at a record 19 percent, jobs are scarce. For young adults without family resources and high school or college degrees, many of the hurdles for finding jobs are even higher.

Housing is an especially tough barrier in the Seattle metro area.

According to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in King County is $917 per month. To reasonably afford a one-bedroom apartment in King County, a person has to make about $19 per hour.

But young adults are unlikely to qualify for a $19 per hour jobs without specialized job training programs to help prepare them for the workforce.

Homeless young adults, for example, may have not have learned basic life skills, such as budgeting and conflict resolution that would be helpful on the job. Many homeless young adults are often also in need of mental health services.

A national study found that 25 percent of former foster youth suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (double that of Vietnam war veterans), 20 percent from major depression, and 17 percent  from social phobia. All of these disorders can negatively affect the young adult’s ability to succeed in the workplace.

The three most common aspects of successful job training programs are an atmosphere of support, mental health services, and the teaching of market-demanded, livable-wage jobs. If these three components are applied to new job training initiatives, homeless youth may be given a chance to succeed in the workforce and in turn, be able to maintain a permanent residence.

One organization that is successfully providing job training to homeless youth is the YMCA Center for Young Adults. The YMCA’s Working to Achieve Growth in Employment Skills (WAGES) program is funded by the City of Seattle’s Working Zone Initiative and serves about 6 young adults throughout the year.

The program offers 10 week internships that pay minimum wage. Participants work three to four days a week with partner organizations. To supplement the work, participants engage in two days of class per week where they learn life skills, tour technical colleges, and listen in on skill building workshops.

“This year, 28 young adults applied for six slots,” said YMCA Young Adult Center Director Julie Jacobson.

The six students are placed at one of four locations, which include Sanctuary Arts, a graphic design and screening company in the university district, ReStore, a recycling warehouse in Ballard, Treehouse, an organization that supports foster children, and the Amy Yee Orchard in the Rainier Valley, which supports sustainable farming.

“My pie in the sky dream for this program is to partner with retail chains like Starbucks or Subway that are willing to take a chance. The retail chain would pay the wages and the YMCA Center for Young Adults would provide the extra support to ensure that the young adults succeed in their position,” said Jacobson.

But the chance that retail chains will take a risk on these young adults is bleak. “This population is not as attractive as those who are older or have more experience,” Jacobson said.

However, the community should take the risk and invest in these young adults. A cost-benefit analysis for providing job training to homeless foster youth found that the training increased long-term tax revenue as well as decreased government expenses on health services, welfare payments, and housing.

Investing in homeless young adult job training programs can better our workforce and make lasting changes in the lives of those who may otherwise not get the chance to succeed.


Washington Center for Real Estate Research     

Atkinson, M. (2008). Aging Out of Foster Care: Towards a Universal Safety Net for

Former Foster Care Youth. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 43, 183-212.

Lowen, A., Demirel, S., Estee, S., & Schreiner, B. (2001) A Study of Families Helped by Shelters and Their Use of Welfare and Social Services. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., Williams, et al. (2006). Improving family foster care:

Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Casey Family Programs.

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