Current Page:
The Street Youth Situation


The Problem

Seattle is a magnet for runaways and other homeless youth. On any given
night there are as many as 2000 homeless youth in King County. Hundreds more
are in inappropriate or inadequate foster care placements or otherwise on
the edge of homelessness. About 30 percent of these children are already
wards of the state. An increasing number of foster care youth are unable to
be placed in homes and are consequently homeless. According to a recent
investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, teenagers are often sent to
a homeless shelter, then turned out onto the street each morning. Troubled
youths are also jailed on minor charges because the state can't provide a
place to live. Most do not have active guardians, caseworkers or public
defenders. Many of these children lack appropriate foster care placements.
Caseworkers often send dependent children to overnight youth shelters as
their placement. Often these children are not receiving any services and are
not in school. Under recent "Becca" legislation they become status offenders
who could be placed in CRCs or detention. Status offenses are often
precursors to criminal behavior. These youth are at a crossroads and without
intervention many do turn to crime out of poverty, anger, hunger and
frustration. Others will submit and return to the harmful environments that
caused them to flee.

Washington State has chosen a course of escalating punitive legislation
towards children in juvenile justice and status offender cases. Given this
trend, it is increasingly important that high risk children avoid
interaction with the juvenile justice system. The purpose of this project is
to reach and assist these children before they are adjudged as delinquent,
enter the criminal justice system, become status offenders or return to
abusive, inadequate or inappropriate placements or homes.
Street youth are a highly transient and difficult to reach population.
Providing services and representation to street youth requires consistent
and empathetic outreach. SYLAW has already established itself as an
available, albeit limited, resource for the street youth community. SYLAW's
volunteers are law students, close in age to street youth. No other project
or agency in Washington State currently provides direct legal representation
and assistance targeted to street youth in King County. King County needs a
legal resource dedicated to this unserved population.

The need for a legal program

According to the GJJAC 1996 Juvenile Justice Report:

Abused children report twice as much serious delinquency and were
arrested twice as often when compared with non­abused youth.
Many street youth have been abused and in turn have left home and
placements due to abuse.
Keeping children in school can reduce juvenile delinquency.
Nonwhite youth receive harsher treatment and are overrepresented in
correctional institutions.
The total population of youth between 10­17 will increase by 12
percent by the year 2000.

The number of youth and their characteristics:

25-40 percent of youth emancipating from foster care end up
homeless, according to the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA); and
There are 3000 youth in King County's foster care system.
King County Community Services reported 1338 intakes in 1996
[January 1, 1996 to December 31, 1996]:
46 percent were non­white;
40 percent were DSHS placements ­ an additional six percent were
Juvenile Justice placements;
20 percent have never run away in the past year, plus 27 percent
have done so one to two times;
35 percent at intake had spent one night or less away from home;
41 percent never have been arrested and 29 percent have been
arrested one to two times; and
25 percent have been suspended, expelled or dropout of school.