An orange tile with dark blue text reads: Spotlight: Housing Instability in Spokane. There is a magnifying glass in the upper lefft corner and a house in the bottom right corner.

Spotlight on Housing Instability in Spokane

One of the hardest calls to get as a Legal Assistant is from a young person who does not feel safe in their living situation. These are not uncommon calls. There will always be requests from youth for safe places to live. They don’t know about legal options. At TeamChild, attorneys help them understand their options, some of which are emancipation, CHINS (Child In Need of Services-allowing youth to live outside their parents’ care with another safe adult for up to 9 months), minor guardianships, and dependencies. As a legal assistant, I’m aware of the limitations on these options, ultimately because youth don’t have a voice in where they want to live.

Emancipation requests have been increasing in spring of 2023 in Spokane County, due to youth being forced out of their homes and not knowing about CHINS petitions or not being able to extend a CHINS petition. A lot of our requests from youth are about one parent having more money than the other and they are forced to live with that parent due to divorce/custody disputes. They request to live with their other parent, and can’t because the primary custody parent has more money/more lawyer assistance. CHINS only works when the youth wants to live with someone who is not their parent: like grandparents or other family/adult friends. When a youth is unhappy with a custody arrangement, it’s a family law issue where the youth has no rights or voice.

Requests for services come in waves. It is not always a young person who makes that call about needing safe housing, and not all matters are connected to family law. Referrals come from various sources: extended family, school staff, healthcare providers, social workers. Even when a young person is represented by a TeamChild attorney, they can have major difficulties accessing safe housing. Here are some examples:

  • For young people who qualify to be in a State-Operated Living Alternative group home, we have heard in numerous situations that there is not enough staffing at these homes, and therefore not enough options available for the youth who need them.
  • There are limited beds in Crisis Residential Centers, and many restrictions placed on the youth while living there, that cause young people to look for other alternatives.
  • Youth need parental consent to access out of home shelter. So while a place like Hutton Settlement Children’s Home looks like Hogwarts and promotes its private rooms and 319 acres of pristine natural setting, if a young person is on the run from abusive parents who won’t give consent, they will not be allowed to live there.
  • There’s been a lot in the news about young people in the state’s care being boarded in hospitals and detention while awaiting safe housing. (See, for example, “Abandoned in the ER: When kids are left at hospitals, the state is no longer taking charge of their care,” Seattle Times, Feb. 21, 2022) We are aware of youth that have been stuck in acute crisis hospital settings for over a year, long past the time where hospitalization is needed.
  • Many youth, including queer youth, have suicide attempts, which can result in their hospitalization. They state they do not feel safe or supported by their primary parents or guardians and aren’t sure of legal options to stay outside their homes, which can extend their time in the hospital.
Black and white photo of Britta smiling into the camera.

Spokane County TeamChild Legal Assistant, Britta Hawkins

It really helps when school counselors and adults in healthcare and social facilities understand legal options and can suggest them to youth, or refer them to us for more assistance. With the overwhelming challenges young people face in accessing housing, they shouldn’t have to face them alone.

If you or a young person you know is experiencing housing instability, reach out to your local TeamChild office to make a referral.

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