A look inside Tacoma’s new homeless youth shelter

The shelter’s rooms were ready to serve the homeless youth of Tacoma by Monday afternoon.

Clothing was hung, shower caddies were prepped.

Colorful handmade blankets were spread across the top of each of the six beds, courtesy of West Sound Quilters.

Pamula Norfleet, housing manager at The Coffee Oasis Serra’s House at 6602 S Alaska St., pointed out the donated blankets as she led a tour around the house on Tuesday.

“They put their names on their blankets... They can take (them) when they leave the program,” she said.

The Coffee Oasis, led by executive director Dave Frederick, is a faith-based nonprofit that uses proceeds from its coffee cafes to fund homeless youth programs. The organization raised more than $3 million in 2018.

There are currently four Coffee Oasis locations in Kitsap County.

Serra’s House is the first Coffee Oasis location in Pierce County and consists of both a shelter and drop-in center. Finding a location for a cafe is in the works, but will be separate from the shelter, said Coffee Oasis spokesperson Claire Barnett.

The shelter, which opened on Monday, is open 24 hours and has six beds available for youth aged 13 to 17. The hope is to add another six beds by the end of the year, Norfleet said.

The doors to the rooms were replaced with curtains, and there’s a night office available for a staff member who stays at the house at night.

“We know that our youth will have trouble sleeping at times, so having that added support at night at the back office, and just to make sure they’re safe,” Norfleet said.

There’s also a kitchen, meeting room and a social room with TV and various games.

The drop-in center is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in September, in time for the start of school. The drop-in center is open after school for ages 13 to 25, where they can receive hot meals, take showers and visit the clothing bank.

A year in the making

The organization has sought a location in Pierce County for a year and a half, citing an immense need. Half of the project’s $2 million funding goal has been met.

In an effort to bring a new homeless shelter Hilltop, a local group of philanthropists sought to partner with The Coffee Oasis in 2018, with mixed reactions, The News Tribune reported in March 2018.

Some voiced concern about whether LGBTQ youth would be able to use the shelter safely. Norfleet assured that the shelter is open and welcoming to all youth.

When the plan to open the site at the long-vacant Hilltop Rite Aid fell through, it was back to square one for finding a site.

Trouvés Health Care Corporation purchased the property that includes Serra’s House for about $5 million from Sisters of St. Francis in 2018. One of the owners was on The Coffee Oasis core team and suggested the property.

“The Sisters of St. Francis operated an orphanage here, and now they’re retiring. So we’re carrying that torch,” Norfleet said.

A great need

Teens can either be referred to the shelter or can walk in. As of Tuesday, the shelter had two referrals.

“We’re starting to get the phone calls, so we’re excited about that,” Norfleet said.

One in the shelter, students can stay for up to 150 days, with a commitment of case management after three consecutive days of stay.

Nortfleet expects the shelter to keep at capacity due to the need county-wide.

In Pierce County, with a population of 891,000 as of 2018, there were 5,160 students counted as homeless in the 2017-18 school year, according to OSPI data.

In Kitsap County, with a population of 269,000 as of 2018, there were 672 students counted as homeless in the 2017-18 school year — and that’s just public schools.

Entering the program, youth also have access to other Coffee Oasis resources. An onsite case manager can help with individual needs while another staff member reaches out to school counselors for any possible referrals.

“They have the opportunity for job readiness, college readiness, support while they’re in school now and to finish, whether they’re getting their certificate or GED. They have the opportunity to live in host homes,” Norfleet said.