Resolve to reduce area’s youth homelessness

Let’s step into the new year with new-found resolve to tackle the problems that face South Sound, and embrace the qualities that make our community a great place to live.

Rather than focus on individual resolutions commonplace in the early days of a new year – exercise more, lose weight, eat healthier – make a point to get more involved in the community to make it safer place to live, work and play.

One area begging for attention is youth homelessness. The depth of the problem grew more evident in 2012 as young people without a roof over their heads gathered to sleep on the sidewalk outside Olympia City Hall.

The images of young people wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets was a rude awakening for many. As a community, we are not doing enough to feed, shelter and care for a vulnerable population.

Early in the new year, a city ordinance will go into effect, banning overnight camping on city property. It doesn’t solve any problem, other than providing unfettered public access to City Hall.

Now more than ever, Thurston County needs a comprehensive strategy, fueled by local, state and federal funding and community volunteers, to help our jurisdictions and social service agencies break the cycle of homelessness affecting our youth. There are good programs in place, many of them under the auspices of Community Youth Services. But it’s going to take more.

Not sure how to get involved? Here’s one easy solution. Buy a ticket to the seventh annual “A Really Big Shoe” musical production staged at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts Feb. 24 by Entertainment Explosion, a group of 60 talented senior citizens.

All the money raised by the event – $131,000 in the past six years – goes to the eight area school districts and CYS to provide shoes, clothing, food, housing, medical care and school supplies to homeless youth.

The Entertainment Explosion concert is just one of many fine examples in South Sound of the role philanthropy plays in tackling our social ills. The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound just received a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation to tackle poverty in South Sound and provide educational support for impoverished children.

This is truly a giving community. A case in point: the Providence St. Peter Foundation raised more than $550,000 this year with its 25th annual Christmas Forest event. May the success of a program to aid abused children and sexual assault victims carry forward into the new year.

There are so many ways to lend a hand: Donate to charities that support youth through the state employees’ Combine Fund Drive and United Way’s annual campaign. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Participate in the state’s foster care program. Be the kind of parent who nurtures children – not one that pushes them into the streets.

Make 2013 the year when collective community focus and effort take a big bite out of youth homelessness.