The shelter workers at YouthCare’s James W. Ray Orion Center say it’s been full since it opened in 2010 and that they’ve been forced to turn away, on average, a third of the homeless youth who have come to them.
On Feb. 1, though, they may have to start turning everyone away: YouthCare has run out of the grant money that started one of the few shelters in King County serving homeless 18- to 24-year-olds.
The end of the grant comes not long after the shelter at the base of Seattle’s Capitol Hill found out in October that almost a million federal dollars would not be coming through for next year. The center had expected to use that money to support other critical programs for homeless youth and young adults, including drop-in services and two employment-training programs.
“I think we’re stuck in this rut for a while,” said Melinda Giovengo, YouthCare’s executive director. “It’s hard to have a plan when your core services are eroding underneath you.”
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To keep the shelter going seven days a week past Feb. 1 for at least another year, Giovengo said, the center needs $350,000. YouthCare is hoping the city of Seattle can give more than the Metropolitan King County Council’s contribution of $120,000 last week with a $130,000 proposal Seattle City Council President Sally Clark has submitted for the city budget. She’s hoping that will give YouthCare enough time to find a private source of funding for the rest of the money needed.
If the center received only $250,000, one possibility would be to open the shelter five nights a week.
Young adults turned away from the center, which usually has 15 beds on weekdays and 20 on weekends, are sent to the only other shelter for them in Seattle, the larger 45-bed Rising Out of the Shadows (ROOTS) Young Adult Shelter in the University District. But that shelter is also turning away people, who then have to travel to Redmond if they want to sleep inside for the night.
Kristine Cunningham, executive director of ROOTS, said most young adults won’t go to homeless shelters with older adults. She said they view their reasons for homelessness as different from those of older people.
“A lot of the young people we meet use a shelter for a short period — they’re in transition,” Cunningham said. “What’s sad is when you compare data on where the homeless stayed at night, young people are five times more likely to have slept in a place unfit for habitation.”
Before the shelter started preparing to close, the staff would hold a lottery every evening to see who got a bed. But now they have
guaranteed spots for the same 15 young adults until the shelter potentially closes. The plan is to help as many of those youth out of homelessness as soon as possible.
One of them, John Rust, 22, said he’s already secured financial aid for housing he’ll be moving into soon. Until then, he continues to come to the center at about 8 p.m. just as he has almost every night for the past year.
He spends his first few hours in the dimly lit shelter reading and working on homework for classes at nearby Seattle Central Community College. He said he’s homeless because he felt guilty about relying on his financially bereft family when he couldn’t find a job that could keep him afloat on his own.
“I was afraid of being a burden,” said Rust.
“When I first got here, I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m here,’ ” Rust said, adding t he thought the JobCorps program he’d been at previously in Moses Lake would be enough to get him on his feet. “It was so upsetting that this is where I was.”
But he was thankful every night he was able to get in. One cold night last year when he didn’t get into the YouthCare shelter, he walked to the ROOTS shelter, only to find there wasn’t any space for him there.
“By that time it was midnight, and I ended up spending all my money on a nice hotel,” Rust said. “I don’t know what I was thinking — I was just so frustrated I couldn’t even think straight.”
The emotional and mental fragility that comes with being homeless is part of why YouthCare sees shelter as just the beginning of service to homeless youth, said Liz Trautman, YouthCare spokeswoman.
“It’s a one-stop shop for young people — they can access all the services they need right there, which is huge,” she said. “They’re not always known for being super on top of things, so the location of everything increases the chances they’ll connect with services they need.”
Trautman expects the Seattle City Council to decide by the end of the month whether or not it will help fund the shelter.
But until that money is confirmed, the shelter, which served 268 individual people in 2012, will continue the same shutdown mode it began Nov. 3.
“We have to operate under the assumption that [the shelter] is closing, because we don’t want to pull the rug out from under people,” Trautman said.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.