CYS and Home Consoritum tackle youth homelessness

Just two weeks after a report that the number of homeless students has risen about 47 percent since the 2007-2008 school year, a Thurston County nonprofit is moving quickly provide relief.

Community Youth Services (CYS) plans to open 10 beds for 18- to 21-year-olds needing overnight accommodation. The nonprofit is renovating Rosie’s Place, the daytime youth drop-in center, to provide shelter for the first time.

This is good news for the estimated 1,000 K-12 students who lack housing in Thurston County school districts, but obviously falls far short of filling the need.

Expanding Rosie’s Place services to provide overnight shelter is a three-month pilot project being funded by the Thurston County Home Consortium, an eight-member advisory board responsible for the multi-jurisdictional administration of the county’s housing programs. It’s made up of representatives from Thurston County and seven cities in the area.

There will be excess demand for those 10 beds, so CYS will offer them via a lottery. Each young person selected randomly will be assigned a bed for a multi-day period, perhaps up to a week at a time.

The nearly 30,000 young people statewide trying to improve their lives by getting a high school education, while sleeping in cars and living on the street, reinforces the need for projects such as the Rosie’s Place shelter.

Helping young people earn a high school diploma gives them a chance at a better life, and reduces the likelihood they’ll be a burden on our state’s social safety net in the future.

A recent report from the state Department of Commerce shows that people at risk for homelessness who receive noncash rent assistance and other support have greater housing stability and are less likely land in prison or jail.

The department’s Housing and Essential Needs Program targets people not able to work for medical reasons, but the findings in its report have universal application. Given the opportunity and support, most people will naturally try to improve their lives.

The pilot project at Rosie’s Place provides that support at a time when individuals are most vulnerable. But converting the youth drop-in center to meet overnight accommodations could be a challenge.

Providing overnight shelter to youth, some with substance abuse problems, some running from a violent family situation, most in need of support and compassion, brings a whole new set of responsibilities and questions for CYS to address.

We hope CYS and the Home Consortium, with the community’s assistance, can find a successful and sustainable path for the program.