After a decade of providing a dedicated space for Eastside youth, the YMCA will be vacating the Kirkland Teen Union Building (KTUB) at the end of June in order for the City of Kirkland to use its facility for other services.
The City of Kirkland is neither renewing nor extending the YMCA’s contract, which had been part of the organization’s 10-year lease of the building. The lease was set to expire in 2020, but the city extended the lease by a year in February, weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-home order.
In early May, however, Kirkland city officials informed the YMCA of Greater Seattle that the city would no longer able to fulfill the agreement. Kirkland officials say the decision was necessary to address rising rates of homelessness and food insecurity within the community as a result of the pandemic.
The leader of the YMCA of Greater Seattle said the organization is “saddened and disappointed” by the city’s move. The 300-person capacity teen center, located in downtown Kirkland, provided free drop-in activities such as open-mic nights and video game tournaments, as well as tutoring and other educational help, to thousands of Kirkland-area residents over the years. The city of Kirkland allocated $160,000 to the YMCA this year for its services.
“If they (the City of Kirkland) would have come back to us and asked us to continue serving, we would consider it, because the need is dire,” said Loria Yeadon, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “But they’ve made their decision.”
The facility is currently closed, and wouldn’t have reopened to full capacity until King County reaches Phase 3 of Washington state’s four-stage reopening plan. That was one factor in the city’s decision, said Kirkland spokeswoman Kellie Stickney. The city is considering allowing the nonprofit Friends of Youth to utilize the facility as a day center for homeless young adults.
“The community is growing tremendously and the needs for youth have changed,” Stickney said. “It felt like an appropriate time to pause and look at if the services the city could provide. … Given that KTUB wasn’t going to be able to operate, it was important to utilize the resources to help the community most in need.”
City and YMCA officials say the two have worked well together, though the relationship was tested last year following an incident at the center in September 2019, when two Kirkland police officers roughly arrested a 14-year-old boy, threatened a second boy with a Taser and swore at and shoved the center’s director.
An investigation said the officers followed policy during the arrest and that they were not motivated by race — the two officers are white and the teenagers and program director are Black. But the officer’s use of profanity violated policy, and the second officer failed to correctly assist his partner, the investigation found. The incident, YMCA officials said, traumatized staff and teens.
The YMCA was vocal in its criticism of the incident and the findings of the investigation. In a letter to city officials, Yeadon wrote that she hoped that the city “did not end our partnership because we stood up for youth in our community and called out the unjustified use of force by the Kirkland Police Department, especially in view of our 10 years of stellar service to the Kirkland community.”
Stickney said the decision was unrelated to the incident.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the connection is being made, because it has nothing to do with that,” she said. “This is all about a decision we made a year ago and with the fluid situation we are currently in.”
Afterward, the center’s leaders met with Kirkland city officials and brought in police officers to meet with teens to build a better relationship between the two groups, Yeadon said.
“We must make progress and we will continue the progress, even if we are not in KTUB,” she said. “If we can’t do it at KTUB, we will find a way, for the sake of community.”