In spite of a $120,000 commitment from the King County Council earlier this week, a downtown homeless shelter for at-risk kids and young adults is, well, at risk. To keep its doors open seven nights a week in 2014, the YouthCare shelter program at the James W. Ray Orion Center needs to scrape together $230,000. Fast.
Each night, some 15-20 young people sleep at YouthCare’s emergency overnight shelter on Yale Ave. near Denny Way. Federal budget cuts and expired foundation grants will drain $1.2 million out of YouthCare's budget next year, limiting the organization’s ability to pay for the facility.
The City Council seems likely to supplement the money that King County allocated earlier this week. City Council President Sally Clark is pushing to set aside $130,000 for the shelter in Seattle’s 2014 budget. The combined city and county funds would be enough to keep the shelter program running five nights a week, but YouthCare’s Director of Programs, Hedda McLendon, says the organization will look for private donors to provide the additional $100,000 necessary to stay open seven nights.
The County's contribution "makes us really, really hopeful," said McLendon. "But we essentially have a bit of a three-legged stool."
Sally Clark is “quite optimistic” that Seattle's City Council will jump in. Budget Committee Chair Tim Burgess and councilmembers Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien are supportive.
While discontinued private grants account for some of YouthCare's budget shortfall, the organization is also a victim of sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts which have taken a big bite out of federal support for homeless services. About $1 million of YouthCare’s current budget woes are the result of unrenewed federal grants, which mostly flowed through the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services. With a smaller pot of federal money for homeless youth programs available, said McLendon, “We’re seeing more competition for those funds.”
Sequestration also automatically chops eight percent off the top of grants that the federal government is still paying out to YouthCare. So, said McLendon, “We can’t even rely on the fact that we’ve been awarded the money.”
Last year, 268 young people slept at Orion Center. The average length of stay at the facility is 58 days. On many nights, requests for shelter space exceed the number of beds. When that occurs, YouthCare is forced to hold a lottery to decide who gets to stay. “We turn away about five youth per day,” said McLendon. Those overflow kids get bus fare so they can travel to shelters in the University District and Redmond.
“There are really so few young adult beds available in the King County region,” said City Council President Clark. “To lose 15 of those beds, that’s a big hit.”