Helping End Youth Homelessness – One Step At A Time

By United Way of King County Posted on May 16, 2015 In Helping Students Graduate

Jixia AoJixia Ao is a new United Way VISTA placed with the Mockingbird Society. Read on to hear about her start at Mockingbird where she will help in their mission to end youth homelessness.


When I first considered applying for the United Way VISTA positions, I made an Excel spreadsheet with five columns: “job title,” “description,” “pros,” “cons,” and “apply? (yes or no)”. I filled the rows with over twenty positions that looked at least vaguely interesting. After a process of elimination, I ended up with four yes’s in the “apply?” column – or to be more precise, three yes’s , and one *YES!

Guess which one I’m working at now?

I was first drawn to the Count Us In Project Specialist position at The Mockingbird Society because it sounded like the perfect opportunity to gain some first-hand research experience in a relevant, real world setting. I had just graduated from the University of Washington with a double major in Anthropology and Comparative History of Ideas, and I was toying with the idea of pursuing a career as a social science researcher.

Count Us In (CUI) is King County’s annual point in time to count and survey of homeless and unstably housed youth and young adults ages 13-25. The data from CUI helps King County track trends, and influences policy and funding decisions. On one day each January, youth service providers and volunteers across the county survey hundreds of youth in order to obtain an estimate of the number of homeless and unstably housed youth and young adults on that particular day, and to collect some basic demographic data. The count started in 2011, and has been growing and improving each year since. The job of the CUI Project Specialist is to study the count and work to improve it even more.

The job description itself would have been a strong enough hook to get me interested, but I got even more excited as I started researching The Mockingbird Society. One of my most deeply held values is that everyone deserves a say in decisions that concern them, because each person is the best expert in their own experience. I believe everyone deserves to have their agency recognized and supported. At The Mockingbird Society, I found an organization that aligns perfectly with my values.

The Mockingbird Society aims to improve foster care and end youth homelessness by training young people who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness to become their own best advocates. Recently, I got to watch young people prepare a presentation to the King County Committee to End Homeless to propose their own ideas—Host Homes and Rapid Supportive Housing – for making youth homelessness rare, brief, and one time.  Youth need to be included in conversations that concern their welfare, and once you include them, you’ll find that youth often have some of the best insights and ideas.

I’m looking forward to working with and learning from young people (some of whom are older than me :P) as I continue to work on improving CUI and supporting Mockingbird’s youth programs. Maybe I’ll even get to make some more spreadsheets.

TL;DR? It’s fine, don’t bother. Check out some awesome youth stories on Mockingbird’s blog, like the facebook page, or peruse The Mockingbird Times.


In addition to all the great work we fund at United Way, we connect people to resources too! This year, we’ve connected 100 VISTA and AmeriCorps members throughout the county. Passionate people doing incredible work – and we’re proud to support them!



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