Editor's Note: This is the second story in a two-part series about Mason County's homeless youth.
At Rosie’s Place in downtown Olympia, homeless people, ages 12 to 24, can wash and dry their clothes, check their email and job prospects, jam on guitars and keyboards in the music room, raid the fully stocked kitchen and grab free clothes and hygiene products. At night, staffers pull six mats out of a customized closet, and six young people spend the night, off the streets.
Homeless teens in Mason County have no such drop-in site, but many of them are finding their way to the state capital. According to Rosie's records, 141 of the 1,376 youths who checked into the shelter in 2013 and so far this year came from Mason County.
The center serves 35 to 40 youths per day. Most are “street dependent or homeless, with no easy access to services, who have needs that are not being met,” said Keylee Marineau, director of services for high-risk youth for Community Youth Services, which runs Rosie's Place. “Our No. 1 job is to engage, meet them where they are,” Marineau said. “They have no reason to trust adults.”
Rosie’s Place opened in 2005 on State Avenue. Four months ago, the drop-in center moved to the second floor of the Brighter Futures Youth Center, at the intersection of Pear Street and Legion Way. This year, said Marineau, Rosie’s Place is operating with a $430,000 budget. Funding comes from private donations and foundations, and from the county, state and federal government. The money purchases and maintains many services, including the music room, library, computers, lockers, a stocked kitchen, as well as crisis intervention and legal services and advocacy.
One washer and dryer set was donated by the Olympia Rotary Club, the other by the Chehalis Tribe. In Cindy’s Closet, youths can help themselves to shoes and clothes, including dresses, jackets and ties suitable for job interviews. The hygiene closet is stocked with soap, shampoo, toothpaste and tampons. The showers are new. “That’s gigantic,” Marineau said. “That’s a huge thing.”
Rosie’s Place only has six beds, which means staff has to send some homeless youths back out on the streets at closing time. When young people arrive at the center, they check in by entering four facts into a computer at the front desk: first and last initials, birthdate, and where they’re from. If they are inebriated or high on drugs, they can stay, as long as they obey the rules, Marineau said. “We want it welcoming and safe, with no barriers.”
The rules include respecting each other and the neighbors, and being responsible for their belongings. Not allowed at the center: hate, violence, drugs, alcohol, sexual behavior, gang or prostitution recruiting.
To the Shelton people who hope to create a local drop-in center like Rosie's Place, Marineau advises hiring compassionate, nonjudgmental staff members who are trained in the culture of the street and street-dependent youths. Staff should know how street families are formed, she said, recognize the look of chemically-dependent young people and grasp what’s it’s like to be gay, lesbian or transgender.
Shelton organizers will also need to develop “wrap-around services,” said Marineau, that create a positive youth development framework. Rosie’s Place, for example, is the “beginning of the continuum” that includes Community Youth Services' Gravity program where street youth can earn a GED and find housing. “We’re really blessed," said Marinueau, "to have so much in-house that we can wrap around them.”
Photos by Gordon Weeks. This story reprinted with permission of the Mason County Journal in Shelton, WA. 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.
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