A geography of homelessness

Shelters, teen feeds, parks, the Y - a web of way stations for King County kids who have no place to call home.


Credit: Allyce Andrew

Services for homeless youth have come a long way since the documentary Streetwise thrust Seattle's runaways into the spotlight in 1983. Back then downtown’s International Donut House was the clubhouse of sorts for Northwest street kids. On any given day as many as 300 could be spotted wandering in and around the infamous First & Pike bakery, whose owner, Guenter Mannhalt, was eventually arrested for turning the young runaways into a band of thieves.

Neighbors cheered when Mannhalt went to jail and his donut shop shut down. But for the outreach workers who were desperate to find street kids before the pimps and drug dealers and other potential predators could get to them, the loss of the Donut House meant the end of one-stop shopping. In the post-Donut era, the homeless youth population fanned out across the city, showing up at the various shelters and teen feeds and drop-in centers which were cropping up around town, sleeping indoors when they could land a shelter bed, sleeping outside when they couldn’t.

These are some of the more common gathering spots, daily way stations for the thousand-odd King County teens and young adults who have no place to call home. We'll start in the University District, a part of town where homeless kids can count on finding a hot meal, a shower and, if they're lucky, a bed for the night.

Teen Feed


Credit: Allyce Andrew

In the late 1980s, a group of UW emergency room nurses grew concerned when lots of malnourished teens started showing up in their ER. So the nurses started Teen Feed, which is still serving hot dinners to homeless youth — seven days a week, 365 days a year — in a rotating collection of U District churches, including University Lutheran (above), University Congregational and UW Hillel.

Teen Feed serves 40-70 young people each night in the U District, and another 60 or so in its almost year-old Rainier Beach and Auburn programs. "We’re doing our best to recreate the family dinner table," says executive director Tabitha Jensen, a former at-risk youth herself. A number of Seattle chefs have had a hand in Teen Feed’s menus. Most of the city's large corporations, including Starbucks, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Boeing and REI, field volunteer "meal teams" that buy and prepare dinners.

ROOTS


Credit: Allyce Andrew

A youth shelter that opened in one of the Teen Feed churches evolved over the years into ROOTS (Rising Out of the Shadows). ROOTS is tucked away in the basement of the University Temple United Methodist Church at 1415 NE 43rd Street. (Look for the double blue doors in the alley between United Methodist and the post office.) Homeless youth aged 18 to 25 who find their way there can get a bed — a mat on the floor — a shower, a hot meal, clothes, toiletries, on-site case management and a variety of referral services. The shelter, which sleeps 45, is run by a combo of paid staff and college student volunteers. "We're having a community sleepover every night," says executive director Kristine Cunningham. "College students and [homeless youth] get to know each other and get beyond the barriers."

Downtown YMCA


Credit: Allyce Andrew

Seattle's Central YMCA has been providing short-term housing and other support services for foster kids since the 1980s. Specialists help foster youth find jobs, earn GEDs and master life skills like cooking dinner and paying bills.


Credit: Allyce Andrew

Foster kids 18 and up who have "aged out" of the foster care system make up about one-third of the city's homeless youth population. The Y's Central Branch is the place these older foster kids can go to apply for a state-sponsored independent living program.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Mon, Mar 31, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

In 1995 an homeless youth advocacy center emerged in light of the Becca Bill. Its co-founders were a group of students accessing the Orion Center/ Interagency School Program and their school teacher. They held a homeless youth awareness concert at the Mural Amphitheater, Seattle Center they called is PSKS- Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets. This was the start of youth voice being heard and at the table- after running the group out of their teachers' studio apartment they secure their first advocacy center on Seattle's Capitol Hill and have been there ever since. They provide in additional to advocacy HYPE Center, they have a G.E.D. program; RISK, employment opportunities; LEAP- Lasting Employment Advancement Program, Step beyond; after care/ transition program, Casemanagement through their Stepping Stones Capitol Hill Case Management program. They are also known for their Donut Dialogues and other contributions to Seattle's culture including Endurance; a multi discipline arts dipicting Seattle Homeless Youth in the mid- 1990's. They continue to provide services on CH.

esimons

Posted Mon, Mar 31, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for this article. Homelessness continues to be an issue not fully addressed by society as a whole. It affects children, youth and adults and solutions are offered by many good people and good organizations but it remains a patchwork of bandaids on an open wound.

Until such time as we can elect people to public office with the mandate to use our tax dollars to fix this problem, it will continue. So far, I don't see much progress toward the overall goal of ending homelessness. We've got the people, we just don't have the power.

nwcitizen

Posted Mon, Mar 31, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

The best way to assure the continued rise of homelessness among adults is to ignore the needs of homeless children and their families. The cliche conservatives use as a talking point -- "you can't solve a problem by throwing money at it" -- is true up to a point. However, what's needed by EVERY program out there attempting to help homeless children and youth is funding. That funding should be sufficient, consistent, and reliable, and that means community funding through taxation, not charity or foundations.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Apr 1, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

I disagree. Taxpayer funding seems to begat more government programs, which NEVER work efficiently.

Private funding to charities, foundations, or non-profits for human services at least gives me the control over which group gets my money.

For example: DSHS. Certain divisions of DSHS should be completely revamped, yet year after year, we continue to see children die or murdered by their own parents - all the while being in a DSHS program supposed to stop this.

For example: WSDOT. If I could pull my tax dollars from WSDOT and provide them to private organizations who would be granted several public transportation projects to complete, I would do this in a heartbeat.

Posted Tue, Apr 1, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

There are those among us who can't give enough of other people's money away on homeless issues. Interestingly, we can't get any data from these so-called non-profits as to whether or not any of their programs work. I wonder how many homeless "graduate" from Bill Hobson's wet house programs? I wonder how many get back on their feet and are productive members of society? Very few I'm sure. So NW Citizen and Sarah 90 - give to your hearts content but stay out of my pocket and my neighborhood.

Now -- with the foster kids, I completely agree with extending support provided they are trying to help themselves.

Norge

Posted Sun, Apr 6, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

'Big Homeless' must have a large budget of money, time, supplies, full and part time employees, etc. Any specific amounts and details available?

animalal

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »