Homeless youth in Shelton: No place to go

At 9 percent, the Shelton School District's homeless rate is three times the state average, but there are no overnight shelters for kids under 18.
Jesse Dowty, KeAndra Radchenko and Brenden Pippins have lived on the street, in the woods, in cars and on couches. All three remain homeless.

Jesse Dowty, KeAndra Radchenko and Brenden Pippins have lived on the street, in the woods, in cars and on couches. All three remain homeless. Credit: Gordon Weeks

Editor's Note: This story is the first in a two-part series about Mason County's homeless youth.

Shelton teenager Brenden Pippins found nighttime shelter from the rain huddled inside cardboard recycling bins behind Evergreen Landscaping and Fred Meyer.

Homeless at 18, Jesse Dowty occasionally slept in a tent in the trees behind Les Schwab on Olympic Highway North. “It was freezing cold, and loud,” he said. “It’s a two-minute walk from the freeway.”

KeAndra Radchenko’s mother, who was addicted to meth and other drugs, forced Radchenko as a child to clean and feed her two younger sisters. Radchenko ran away to the streets of Olympia at age 12, then to downtown Seattle a year later before returning to on-and-off homelessness in Shelton at age 16.

In February, Radchenko (below) earned her high school diploma at CHOICE Alternative School’s midyear graduation ceremony. As the graduating class speaker, she eloquently shared her struggles. Today, she owns a diploma, but has no home.

Radchenko and Pippins — partners for three years— recently spent a few days sleeping at her grandmother’s crowded house, but they might have to return to their car on the streets of downtown Shelton.

“There’s no place to go,” Pippins said. “You get in trouble for staying in the parks, you get in trouble for staying in the woods, you get in trouble for staying on the benches. We can’t hang around anywhere without being harassed.”

‘We just can’t afford you’

The Shelton School District tracks homeless youths in order to receive federal money for programs that serve them. For the 2012-2013 school year, the district counted 374 homeless children and youths; 38 were high school juniors, 62 were seniors. Nearly 14 percent of the seniors at Shelton last year were homeless.

Students often say they’ve been kicked out of their houses, said Wayne Massie (below), superintendent of the Shelton School District.
“You get that feeling it’s, ‘Gosh, we just can’t afford you anymore. You’re on your own,’” he said. The district collects clothes for homeless teens, and stores them in the rafters of the school district headquarters at 700 S 1st Street.

Often perceived as a more significant issue in the state's urban centers, statistics from Washington's Superintendent of Public Instruction show the highest percentages of youth homelessness are in the state's rural depressed communities. With 9 percent of its students homeless, Shelton School District's homeless rate is three times the state average of just under 3 percent. Seattle Public Schools had 2,370 homeless students, or a little less than 5 percent of its total student population.

Statewide, more than 30,000 students were homeless in the 2012-2013 school year. Over the past five years, the number of homeless students in Washington schools increased by a staggering 47 percent.

The problem is national: A record 1.1 million students attending public schools in the United States were homeless in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The number of homeless students increased 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, rising from 1,065,794 to 1,168,354. Forty-three states reported increases.

Of the 374 homeless students attending Shelton schools in 2012-2013:
• 87 lived in shelters.
• 50 were “unsheltered,” which means they lived in abandoned buildings, campgrounds, vehicles, parks, temporary trailers, FEMA shelters, bus stations, substandard or inadequate housing or on the “street.”
• 3 lived in motels.
• 234 were “doubled up;” meaning, by the federal McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, young people who live with relatives or friends due to a loss of housing, economic hardship and circumstances that include family turmoil, domestic violence, incarceration, hospitalization and drug or alcohol treatment.

These young people not only have no permanent home, but few places to gather in Shelton. The closest shopping mall is in Olympia. The bowling alley closed. There’s no overnight shelter for teens younger than 18. The armory building, long a gathering place for youths, closed down — and scheduled to reopen as Mason Transit Authority’s Transit-Community Center in January.

“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.”

BRENDEN

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.

JESSE

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.

Shelton needs “a place to go during the day when it’s cold out,” Dowty said. The city also needs no-income and low-income housing, housing programs for young people and someone to organize a drop-in site that would offer all the resources, he said.

After a year of homelessness, Dowty's family decided to help him. They found a downtown apartment and paid the down payment. HOST helped pay his rent. The first night in his own home was “extremely quiet,” he recalled. He rolled out his sleeping bag and slept on the floor.

Two months ago, Dowty was talking about returning to CHOICE Alternative School to complete his GED, and perhaps continuing his education to become a history teacher. Instead, he lost his apartment, and is homeless again.

KeANDRA

Radchenko said her mother used methamphetamine and other drugs, and left her to fend for her two younger sisters and herself.
“I was the one who was feeding them and cleaning them,” she said. When Radchenko was 12, she and a friend ran away to Olympia; a year later, they were wandering the streets of downtown Seattle.

The two girls begged for money, and were often harassed. An old homeless man showed them where to sleep: inside the pedestrian bridge to the ferry terminal. As for Radchenko’s family, “They just thought I was being a rebellious teenager,” she said, adding “I didn’t want to rat out my mom.”

When Radchenko turned 16, her father persuaded her to go back to school. He died later that year of cirrhosis of the liver. “My dad was like my idol,” Radchenko said. “He was my everything.”

Radchenko focused her energies on school. She sometimes slept at her grandmother’s house, and for a spell at a friend’s apartment. Some nights, she and Pippins slept inside a heater-less car on the streets of Shelton. Radchenko recalls one specific low point: sitting shoeless in the car, with its hole in the floor, out of gasoline and money. Parked on downtown streets at night, passerbys knock on the window and ask, “Are you OK in there?”

For income, Radchenko receives $50 a month from HOST. Both she and Pippins were on the community committee that launched the program; both serve as Youth in Action youth leaders. The community needs to “step up” to help homeless teens, Radchenko said. “If Shelton helps us, we can help Shelton.”

All photos by Gordon Weeks. This story was reprinted with permission of the Mason County Journal. The family-owned weekly newspaper, founded in 1886 before Washington was a state, is the oldest continuously operating business in Mason County and the newspaper of record for the community.

To follow Crosscut's Kids@Risk coverage, go here.

Gordon Weeks, a native of Des Moines, earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Western Washington University in 1984. He has worked as a full-time reporter and editor for the past 30 years, including stints on the Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner and Skagit Valley Herald. He has worked for the Mason County Journal for the past two years.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 6:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I feel sorry for these kids- but out of the 374, 234 were not homelsss.

Seasoned

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Keep going: 234 + 87 + 3 = 324 out of 374 aren't homeless.

You'd think with all the bleeding heart liberals they'd be able to find 50 couches.

Simon

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm suffering from chronic homeless teenager fatigue Crosscut stories. These kids have it tough, but how can all this hand-wringing possibly help them? How about this: take the money you pay the writers and give it to homeless kids.

gabowker

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

So let's start a new Civilian Conservation Corps. Let's find them shelters in movable facilities that can go place to place to work on public works projects. They can build new playgrounds and picnic shelters in our parks. They can weed our playfields and clean up graffiti. They can help patch potholes, or set out traffic cones for civic construction projects. They can paint benches and street garbage cans, sweep sidewalks, powerwash bus stops, and clear and maintain trails in our parks and national forests.

There is a ton of work to be done on our infrastructure, and thousands of healthy people who want work, food, and shelter. We are still enjoying the work that the CCC did in our city parks, state parks, and national parks and I can't think of why we aren't doing it again.

talisker

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Have them work? Are you kidding? Why these days that would be absolutely un-American.

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Not to mention your public sector unions will not allow it.

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 8:21 p.m. Inappropriate

"His plans include finding a part-time job, completing his GED and attending college, and perhaps incorporating his interests in tattooing and glass blowing."

He's not going to get out of Shelton with this career path choice.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:53 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree, but note that completing his GED and attending trade school or college are the primary keys to moving ahead. The tattooing and glass blowing should be secondary, like hobbies. Learning and skill building first.

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Again not my words. My plans was to find a job and Finnish getting my GED so I could go to collage. Career interest is programming (Computer/phones/etc) & pshycology (involving drug/chemical dependency). Both I've been learning, researching & getting involved with my self for a few years now and still going. As for hobbies programming androids/smart phones, playing music, tattooing, and glass blowing.
Now I finally have a job full time, still working on GED with plans for collage and getting my first home.

And comments like " he'll never get out of Shelton with this career path" is one way to make youth give up and not care. Doesn't matter what that dream career is. Enough youth hear that their dreams or ideas will get them no where or amount to nothing and when one hears that enouph it becomes true. You see, not enouph adults push their youth to follow a dream and instead they ruin them.
Example; I brought two different outdated androids with corrupted software. They took a look at them and said " you can't fix them, there's no way." But I'm stubborn and I used a laptop at Starbucks and brought both phones back to them and sure as hell I proved them wrong.

Instead of doubting youth, push them to follow their interests.

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

To start off, I am Branden Pippins.
With no intention of disrespect to the author, I'd like to say our story's
Were very disappointing to read in the paper. The amount of twisted info and lack of facts and our voices in our story's was extremely upsetting.
KeAndra's story has some truth & facts but was also
Far off and wrong in many ways. My story was also very disappointing and lacked many facts and voice.
A lot of my story and statements was interpreted wrong and twisted.

I understand every one hears, thinks, and sees from a different point of view but we feel like we were unheard and the author should of wrote our story's and statements the way we gave them, and not changed to his liking.

I have more to say but it will have to wait.
Branden.

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice to hear from you Branden.

Write again.

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

I wish you all the best. Please work hard at any job you can get and stay off drugs. The path you need to take is not easy, but the rewards are tremendous.

Seasoned

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