About this time last year I wrote a column about youth homelessness called “Like a Rolling Stone.” Once again the County recently did a homeless count and even though some of the numbers are a little better (very little) we still are concerned about those people without a permanent home or even a shelter over their heads. For two years, I have been working to open a drop in center and shelter for young adults, 18-24. This age group is separate from others in their reasoning for homelessness. Some have aged out of foster care. But more often, these young adults have experienced traumas that have forced them out of their homes and onto the streets. All of them are moving into the challenges adulthood without the support, resources or life skills to find success.
The County and the City of Tacoma are partnering to open this shelter which will be located in Tacoma. Community Youth Services (CYS) has been contracted to provide the services at the facility. The staff will work with the young people developing both life skills and job skills. In fact, what is especially promising about this place is that it will offer a social enterprise business in the retail space of the building, giving these kids hands on job experience. It will look just like any business on a busy street.
Aside from the funding, the first order of business was to find a location. Sounds easy…not so much. Over 80 properties that have been brought forward to the City were turned down for various reasons. Finally, it was decided to locate the shelter in a vacant building along South Tacoma Way. It is the perfect size, perfect location, on a bus line, has business space, and a separate entrance for the shelter off the main thoroughfare. So that is the good news. Perfect!
That is from our point of view. Now to the other point of view. There are a number of workers in this area that have expressed concern. First, I must say that they are in agreement that the shelter is needed, that these kids need a safe place and that Children Youth Services has a great program model. They just don’t want it on the main street with the other businesses. A block or two away would be fine. Unfortunately, there weren’t any available buildings found in that area during our search and the City Council has recently voted to purchase this site.
I see, understand and empathize with both sides of this situation. The final decision about moving forward is the City’s and that decision has been made. We will be moving forward.
As a member of the CYS Advisory Board and working collaboratively with the Executive Director and eventually the newly hired Program Director we will work to alleviate the concerns from the businesses. I will invite CYS to join our neighborhood advisory board and to attend meetings. I will continue working with City officials to address concerns as they arise. Our intent is for this facility to be a part of this community, not a blight. I hope that as the community learns more about these kids, and sees the shelter in action they will accept and eventually embrace these kids. It will take time and a lot of work from CYS. But this business district is a close knit giving community and one with a lot of heart. I know all of us want the best for these kids and together we will get there.