Ideas for homeless youth services inch forward

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The City of Tacoma and Pierce County are looking for agencies to provide homeless youth services, namely those Community Youth Services will end later this year, particularly the youth shelter that temporarily operates at Beacon Senior Center. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

Five entities responded to the city’s request for ideas about providing homeless youth services in the city and around Pierce County that could include shelters, outreach and drop-in centers.

Staff from Tacoma’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department and Pierce County’s Human Services Department are now reviewing submissions from Bremerton-based Coffee Oasis as well as REACH, Rebuilding Hope, Comprehensive Life Resources and Camp Fire Orca, all from Tacoma. Recommendations will then work through the city and county’s committee process before going to respective councils for action.

Community Youth Services (CYS) temporarily operates an overnight teen shelter at the city-owned Beacon Senior Center, after shuttling the service from its previous location at South 15th Street and Tacoma Avenue in March. The after-hours program provides counseling, educational support, and access to clothing and toiletries to teens and young adults after the senior programs provided by the Korean Women’s Association and Greater Destiny Church conclude during the morning and afternoons. Doors for the 50-bed overnight shelter, for example, open at 9 p.m., well after the senior center has closed for the evening. But its future there is uncertain since CYS has opted to not renew its contract and plans to end the program this winter. The largest provider of child welfare services in Southwest Washington is based in Olympia and found it unwieldy to maintain large operations in both counties. 

“It really became an agency of itself,” CEO Scott Hanauer said of CYS’ programs in Pierce County that employ about a third of the agency’s payroll.  

He hopes that a new provider of homeless youth services will be selected in the late summer, so CYS can seamlessly transition the programs – and staff – over before the end of the year.

“They are highly committed and highly competent people,” he said, noting that CYS has offered to advise in the selection of a new provider to take over the programs it has in place.

“That is really the city’s and county’s call,” he said. 

That means the clock is ticking on an issue that has already undergone years of discussion and misstarts, most notably being the city spending $850,000 for a long-mothballed storefront along South Tacoma Way only to then face opposition from area businesses and a $45,000 feasibility study that concluded the building was too small and required expensive renovations. The property has since been resold.

The hope is that one or more of the six ideas floated by the nonprofits through the request for ideas process will lead to the programs continuing at Beacon Senior Center at least until a permanent location can begin operations if the program moves. Possible other locations for a permanent youth shelter have included the former Rite Aid store along Martin Luther King Jr. Way and the former Wonder Bread bakery near the corner of Sprague and 6th Avenue.

At last count, some 190 unaccompanied homeless children and 670 homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 reside in Pierce County.

The call for a youth shelter is just one project under the city’s 2016 emergency declaration to address homelessness that has directed more than $10 million toward homeless services, most noticeably the stability site along Puyallup Avenue that provides services and shelter to about 80 people, with another 80 on the waiting list to enter the facility. So far, 31 homeless people have since left the stability site for permanent housing. 

About 1,600 people are homeless in Pierce County, according to this year’s point-in-time count. To help shelter those people either sleeping on the streets or in their vehicles, the City Council recently approved rules that allow nonprofit and church groups to establish their own temporary shelters.

The city’s temporary shelter rules allow up to six shelters of up to 100 people each to operate around the city for up to one year.

Only Bethlehem Baptist has so far opened a temporary shelter. It’s program shelters up to 15 people in the Eastside church’s gymnasium.

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