Homeless kids: Big city problem, small town solutions

Dec 6, 2016, 2:26 PM | Updated: 2:45 pm
homeless kids, Mt. Si...
Small towns nestled in the Snoqualmie Valley are separated by several miles and none of them offer much in the way of social services. (Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio)
(Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio)
LISTEN: Homeless kids: Big city problem, small town solutions

Seattle’s mayor has promised a $50 million investment to address the city’s homelessness crisis. While the problem isn’t limited to the big city, smaller communities don’t have the same resources to pull from. But, they do have something even more valuable — people with big hearts who are willing to get involved.

North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City are small towns nestled in the Snoqualmie Valley. They are each separated by several miles and none of them offer much in the way of social services. The local school district estimates they are working with about 60 homeless youth in the valley, although they say there are likely many more going unnoticed.

O’Neill: Mayor, Council deserve – a little – credit for Seattle homeless ideas

Kristen Zuray is among the folks looking out for those kids. She started “The Trail Youth” in Issaquah three years ago. They would walk the trails where homeless teens were known to hang out, offering coffee and donuts to gain their trust, then getting to know the kids to find out how they might be able to help. It didn’t take long for Kristen to realize the problem started even closer to home.

“The people that we were working with in Issaquah told us that they were getting their drugs from out here,” Zuray said. “Plus, we live out here.”

I joined Zuray and fellow volunteer Tanya Guinn on a recent walk down the Snoqualmie Valley Trail in North Bend. Our journey started near Two Rivers School, a small alternative high school. The students often hang out on the trail during their lunch break, smoking and debating whether or not they want to return to class.

Zuray and Guinn handed out a few donuts and introduced themselves. The kids were warm and welcoming. It was the first step toward understanding who might need help and finding other homeless youth in the area.

Then, we walked down the forest-lined gravel trail looking for signs of encampments. Zuray told me the story of a homeless young man in Issaquah who was a father-figure for his group. The man was standoffish at first. When they found out he’d been stabbed, they brought his brother and some of his friends to the hospital so they could be by his side.

“And from that day on we had somebody from the trail be with him in the hospital,” Zuray recalled. “That just broke down the barriers for him.”

While The Trail Youth go out in search of kids who might have issues with addiction, mental health or homelessness, there’s also an organized group effort to find the resources these kids will need and the places for them to go.

Several month ago, the community began a series of Forums on Homeless Youth held at the Sallal Grange. They’re trying to figure out solutions to the unique problems these kids face, like the fact that they’re too young to get food stamps or housing vouchers.

The State Department of Social and Health Services has programs for people under the age of 18, but many of them don’t want to become part of “the system.” Among their fears is that they might wind up in foster care. And, if they’re reported as a runaway they could be forced to go back home.

Not only do many of these kids deal with addiction and mental health issues themselves, but so do the adults they’re supposed to be able to rely on.

The local school resource officer was at one of the recent meetings. While she was there, she was talking on her cell phone with a 12-year-old in crisis.

“She’s young. She’s been raising herself. She has nowhere to go, no one to talk to, so she’s becoming suicidal,” Officer Kim Stonebraker said. “So, every night I’m talking to her until she goes to bed.”

Huge increase in Washington homeless numbers

This is really the epitome of small town determination. Nonprofit groups, local church members, concerned citizens, folks from the police department, and employees of the school district have all been coming together at these monthly meetings.

The local teen librarian, Maggie Wong, who works for the King County Library System, servicing North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City, has become an unlikely hero as one of the driving forces behind the events.

“While we’ve often been associated with books, at it’s core we’re associated with information,” Wong explained. “Part of that is that we have to really stay keyed in with the community that we serve.”

Wong is working to congregate information on services available in the valley and the individuals she can call. For a kid in crisis, a warm hand off to a person Wong trusts can make all the difference.

A hand off to someone like Harley Christensen, an outreach worker for “Friends of Youth,” a group that offers counseling for mental health and substance abuse in the Snoqualmie Valley. The group also operate shelters throughout King County and offer other services for 15 to 24 year olds.

“I’ve gone to elementary, middle and high school here. I’ve seen people struggle and had my own struggle in that time,” Christensen said. “I think everywhere is in need, but specifically in the Snoqualmie Valley there’s not a ton of resources out here.”

In addition to dealing with homelessness and the possibility of addiction and mental health problems, Christensen noted that young people are also worried about finishing high school. It’s not only an additional stress, but it means less time for them to find services or look for a job.

Christensen was in Snoqualmie on Saturday night for a benefit performance for Friends of Youth put on by his dad’s band, Ask Sophie. The event was hosted by the Black Dog Arts Cafe. Co-owner Cris Coffing has seen the teen homelessness epidemic increase through their weekly open mic night, which has been going on every Wednesday for 26 years.

“It is an epidemic out here, and heroin’s an epidemic. That’s our latest battle. There’s a lot of heroin kids out here,” Coffing said.

The cafe is a safe place people can go for a glass of water and a warm place to relax, Coffing says. Even more importantly, Coffing said the shop offer vulnerable teens a chance to connect.

“For example, I’ll have a 75-year-old guitarist who creates a mentor-disciple relationship with a 15-year-old youth,” Coffing said. “That’s what I like the most.”

That seems to be the secret sauce in the Valley. They don’t have big government money, but they do have big hearts and neighbors willing to help out in whatever way they can.

“I think one person can change a youth’s life,” Coffing said. “Someone they might meet in here or talk to or get some encouragement from. I guess I hold that hope in my heart.”

Ron and Don

KIRO Radio Newsdesk

Ron and Don’s last show on KIRO Radio

Last night was Ron and Don’s last show on KIRO Radio.
3 years ago
Kelly Herzberg in her natural habitat. (Photo by Rachel Belle)...
Rachel Belle

In Seattle, a personal shopper and stylist who only shops at thrift stores

If you think you can't afford a personal stylist, head to the thrift store with Sweet Kelly Anne Styling's Kelly Herzberg who will pull hundreds of pieces for you to try on.
3 years ago
Viaduct waterfront...
Ron Upshaw

What do we do with the waterfront after the viaduct is gone?

After the viaduct is taken down, we'll be left with a choice: What do we do with one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country?
3 years ago
Ron Upshaw

Shower Thoughts: Ichiro can give Mariners fans something to root for

Rumor has it that Ichiro might make a comeback next year, and I for one welcome it.
3 years ago
Border wall...
Ron Upshaw

Trying to figure out why people want Trump’s border wall

A little over 40 percent of Americans now support the idea of a border wall, but what is it about it that seems so attractive?
3 years ago
Dan McCartney, Pierce County Sheriff...
Don O'Neill

Why you could hear kids’ voices on Pierce County Sheriff radios Monday night

Sometimes, "gone but not forgotten" isn't always how slain officers are remembered. But in Pierce County, a special effort is being made to commemorate a fallen deputy.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Homeless kids: Big city problem, small town solutions