There is a green building, just around the corner from Andrew Walsh’s gym on Denny, at the bottom of Capitol Hill, that he passes every day. “You always see young people coming and going, and I could always tell that whatever was going on inside there was good. They’re the most well behaved kids I see on the street there.”
He’s talking about the James W. Ray Orion Center at Youth Care. It’s where homeless youth can connect with case managers to get IDs or birth certificates, get in touch with mental health of chemical dependency therapists, go to math camp to help pass their GED test, or participate in one of four different employment programs.
But the other night, the staff at the Orion Center put names in a hat, and selected only 15 teens that would be eligible to use their overnight services from now until the end of February – because that’s when their overnight services will be forced to shutter.
The center knew that funding would be coming to an end for the three-year program, originally provided by the Raynier Foundation. So far, they haven’t been able to come up with the funds.
The overnight program provides 15 shelter beds during the week and 20 beds on the weekend – and Hedda McLendon, the director of programs at Youth Care, says that’s one out of four beds for the homeless teen population in King County. In 2012 they served 268 individuals at that shelter.
She says it will affect the center’s outreach program. “Most people, think of getting these homeless youth warm clothing, hygiene supplies, meals and snacks. But what they don’t realize is it’s also about family reunification, identifying runaway minors and connecting them to caring adults. It’s about service referrals […] getting them to treatment service, getting into education employment programs.”
But McLendon says that people don’t get that it’s usually not the fault of a teen that they’re living out on the street. Abuse, families turning them out when they hit hard financial times, or because their family asked them to leave when they said they identified as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) are many of the reasons they supply a warm place for a displaced teen to stay.
“That’s the challenge: these kids don’t want to be on the streets, and this is their only choice,” says McLendon.
Youth Care still hopes it can get replacement money so they can keep the service open, and you can find a link to donate at YouthCare.org.