Years of Progress: The Washington Youth & Families Fund in Yakima County

Published: April 29, 2024

April marks the 20th anniversary of the Washington Youth & Families Fund (WYFF), a vital resource for driving innovative solutions to meet the unique needs of youth and families experiencing homelessness in Washington State. Administered and led by Building Changes, WYFF combines public and private dollars to support organizations and tribes that have built trust in their communities and can nimbly and effectively assist youth and families with culturally appropriate services. Since its creation in 2004, $62.7 million has been granted, serving 26 out of 39 counties statewide. To mark this milestone, we met with longtime WYFF partner, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS), to hear their perspective on the evolution of WYFF and how the fund has made an impact in their community.

Rhonda Hauff photo

CEO of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, Rhonda Hauff.

YNHS is the largest provider of homeless services in Yakima County. According to the 2022 Yakima County Point in Time report, 554 households were experiencing homelessness, with BIPOC residents (especially those who are Black and Hispanic) being disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity. As both a healthcare and homeless service provider, YNHS approaches the fight against the homelessness crisis holistically. By addressing the complete health and care of individuals and families experiencing homelessness within one system, they ensure the needs of the whole person are met. YNHS began this work in 2005 by conducting focus groups with unsheltered people in their community, finding that many simply needed a place to go when sick. For YNHS, the connection between health and housing was clear: access to permanent, supportive housing is necessary to improve the health of people experiencing housing instability in their community. This led YNHS on the journey to integrate housing supports into their existing health care initiatives.


Strong community partnerships are key to meeting the diverse needs of children and families experiencing homelessness. Over the years, WYFF grants have helped facilitate interagency collaboration between YNHS and various partners including local government, housing authorities, community-based organizations, and behavioral and substance abuse treatment agencies, among others. Through this collaboration, an infrastructure of wraparound support was created, ensuring clients would be referred to trusted partners and improving the resources and options available for people in need of support. “WYFF funding provided the glue that allowed us to develop a community standard for case management,” YNHS CEO Rhonda Hauff said, “We worked together to develop a structure for providing services, and it has been our community standard ever since.” This interagency and interdisciplinary support structure has created a ‘three-legged’ stool to improve people’s health – access to supportive housing, health care, and education provides the foundation for successful transitions into stable housing.

Data and Evaluation

One key component of WYFF is data collection and evaluation to determine the efficacy of innovative strategies to end homelessness. In partnership with grantees, Building Changes evaluates program results and provides tailored technical assistance as part of our role as administrators of WYFF. For YNHS, the research and evaluation aspect of WYFF was crucial. “We don’t have our own research team, so the ability to track what programs were successful kept us moving in the right direction,” Hauff shared. She noted that WYFF funding also built capacity within the YNHS team through increased staffing and tailored training in intensive case management. With this additional capacity, YNHS’ case managers are able to support their clients with life skills, which they’ve found has been essential in helping their clients reach self-sufficiency and ultimately, better health outcomes. “WYFF funding has given us the luxury of time. We’re able to build relationships with our clients so we can better understand their needs.”

Flexible Funding

WYFF supports effective and equitable solutions like Diversion and flexible funding. Diversion is a practical, common-sense approach that can help people get housed quickly and simply. It centers on creative problem solving with youth and families to help reduce barriers to housing and includes flexible funding that can be used to cover emergent needs that are typically not provided in other housing and homelessness programs. These flexible funds can help youth and families with rent, moving costs, utility payments, or other expenses depending on their specific needs. In a smaller and community like Yakima, this flexible funding has been a ‘gamechanger’ for many families, according to Hauff. She shared that YNHS has used these flexible funds to help kids go to summer camp, receive tutoring, and participate in extra-curricular activities. “Sometimes, these were the things that kept kids in school,” she said. WYFF was the first fund to make this kind of flexible funding available and is now a vital component of homelessness response systems across the state.

Building Changes is proud to be in partnership with YNHS and is excited about the impact WYFF funding has made in Yakima County. We’re honored to support them to meet the needs of children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in their community.

Rhonda Hauff, CEO of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, has served on Building Changes’ Board of Directors since 2021. She is the President of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, which is considered the country’s leading organization in the effort to connect people experiencing homelessness with health care.

Learn more about the Washington Youth & Families Fund and find out how you can help support effective and equitable solutions to homelessness.

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