When we were reporting our story on Spokane's "street kids" last month, more than one person mentioned Seattle's James W. Ray Orion Center, a shelter specifically for homeless young adults. Young people living on the streets are often too old for youth shelters but too young to feel comfortable in adult shelters with older homeless men and women, so places like the Orion Center, while rare, fill a crucial gap. Spokane could use something similar, young people on the streets told us. Now, it appears the Orion Center could soon close because of funding shortfalls.
The Stranger covered just what the loss could mean to the city and how other nonprofits are preparing for an influx of young people.
From that story:
Every night at 8:30 p.m., a huddle of homeless young adults, all between the ages of 18 and 24, line up along the neon green wall of the Orion Center for the chance to sleep on the warm, well-worn floor.
"You don't know how many lives it saves," says a 19-year-old woman named Zero, while eating lunch at Orion Center. She became homeless a year ago. "I used to sleep under the bridges a lot, or party to stay awake and not be cold." After using the center's beds, kitchen, and social services, Zero is now employed, advocating for resources for other homeless youth.
People like Zero avoid adult shelters for several reasons. They are populated largely with drug addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill—and the caseworkers provide services tailored toward those problems. But homeless youth have unique challenges.
"Many of the young people we see were actually kicked out of their homes," explains Hedda McLendon, director of programs at the Orion Center. "About 74 percent of the young people we see are physically and sexually abused at home, and about 40 percent leave or are kicked out because they're gay." Because the adults in their own lives have mistreated them, many young people are reluctant to trust older strangers at shelters.
"I went to an adult shelter and I walked out," remembers 19-year-old Brittany, who is also a familiar face at the Orion Center. "For someone with a traumatic past, it's traumatizing to go into an adult shelter," she explains. "It's not a safe place."
Read more here.