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“We don’t have a real community center for teens,” Massie said. “These are good places to connect with adults outside the school system … There are not many wholesome places for teens to hang out and do things in the community.”
Homeless youth, ages 18 to 21, who use the Housing Options for Students in Transition (HOST) program — HOST provides temporary housing, monthly stipends, case management and job shadow opportunities — “have been let down by every adult in their life,” said Delphina Liles, the group’s program coordinator.
Such is the case with Jesse Dowty, KeAndra Radchenko and Brenden Pippins, the three teenagers who shared their stories of being homeless in Shelton. Miles Nowlin, who supports homeless teens as the homeless liaison for the Shelton School District, said the three share other traits, among them “the oomph, the resiliency which comes naturally when you’re thrown into extreme circumstances.”
Born in Missouri and raised in Minnesota, Pippins came to Shelton when he was 11. He arrived with his sister, two brothers and his mother, who moved the family to Shelton to live with a man she met online.
“He was an alcoholic, and there was always fighting,” Pippins said. “He was abusive toward us. I don’t think there was a day there wasn’t a drunken fight.” Pippins said his mother was addicted to pills and drinking heavily, and would beat herself up, then call police and claim she’d been assaulted by her children.
Starting at age 15, Pippins was in and out of the house. He became homeless fulltime at 16 when his mother moved to Oklahoma, and two of his siblings joined their long-lost father in Missouri.
Pippins would stay for a few days at a time at the homes of friends, or in the woods or in the recyclable cardboard bins behind Fred Meyer and Evergreen Landscaping. “It was not out in the open," he explained, "but easy to get to and stay out of the rain.”
On a typical day, if he’d slept at all, Pippins would wake up about 4 a.m. and walk to downtown Shelton to wait for the soup kitchen to open. These days, Pippins receives help from the HOST program, and gets jeans and shoes and other items from Youth N Action, a statewide advocacy program that empowers underserved people, ages 14 to 24, to share their opinions on public policy decisions. His plans include finding a part-time job, completing his GED and attending college, and perhaps incorporating his interests in tattooing and glass blowing.
Dowty’s father left him when he was 3. By the time he was 15, he was fighting with his stepfather. “I was pretty lazy, until they kicked me out when I was 18,” he said.
Dowty's parents sent him to Job Corps, which showed him the door after a dispute about his medications. Dowty was “shocked” by his parents’ response to his ouster from Job Corps. “They didn’t let me come home,” he said. “They told me where the shelter was.”
At 18, Dowty was just old enough to be admitted to the Cold Weather Shelter in downtown Shelton. But, “I was running my mouth and getting my ass beat,” he said. With nowhere to go, no income and no way to wash his one set of clothes for a possible job interview, “I was really lost," he said. "… After time, I got used to it.”
Dowty ate at the soup kitchen, took advantage of meals offered by Community Lifeline and stole food from a Shelton grocery store. He was banned from a coffeehouse for using its bathroom; he used the restrooms at the armory building until it closed. He found shelter from the storms in the Starbuck’s section at Safeway, and inside the Shelton Civic Center. He said police cut holes in the tent he pitched behind Les Schwab, to let the rain in.
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