Food, soft music and friendly faces welcomed homeless young adults this week at a new Tacoma shelter that’s the first of its kind in decades.
“There hasn’t been any place in the city of Tacoma or Pierce County for about 30 years for youths experiencing homelessness,” Tacoma Human Services Division manager Pamela Duncan said.
The Beacon Senior Center in downtown Tacoma opened the shelter’s doors Monday and will have about 40 beds available each night for people ages 18 to 24 through the end of March.
Activities at the senior center at 415 S. 13th St. will continue as usual during the day, but, in the evening, the cots will come out. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis for young people who need a place to stay. The shelter is available to them until 7 a.m.
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The city of Tacoma, the nonprofit Community Youth Services-Pierce County, and other community groups worked to make the shelter happen. The city is dedicating $150,000 to the project.
Before, young people needing a place to stay could go to places like the Tacoma Rescue Mission, but most didn’t, said Community Youth Services director Kurt Miller. Instead, young adults opt to stay outside.
Dwight Alford, 24, has been staying at the youth shelter because he had to move out of his apartment at the start of the month, after he said he was laid off from the Brown & Haley factory.
First he stayed at the Rescue Mission, but said he felt uncomfortable there, because of the large number of people and the fact that many were older.
“I came here and everything just seemed welcoming,” Alford said of the youth shelter. “It makes you feel like you want to do something with yourself.”
He and others have been spreading the word about the new shelter.
The first night, four people stayed. The next night, there were eight.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was filled by the end of next week,” Alford said.
Phillip Winegar, 22, planned to go back to the Rescue Mission and tell other young adults there that they should come to the new shelter.
After traveling to Tacoma from Kansas, he stayed at the mission for about a week before moving to the youth facility.
“The comparison between the two is just night and day,” Winegar said. “It definitely has a more upbeat feel to it.”
Jeremy Rose, 20, is staying at the youth shelter while going to Tacoma Community College to study networking and cybersecurity.
“My education comes first,” he said.
Rose, who said he’s been homeless since he was 17, used to stay in an abandoned building — since torn down — that stood across the street from the senior center.
He said he thinks having a youth shelter will cut back on crime by giving people a safe place to get the resources they need.
Rose served prison time for assault, he said, after he stabbed two other homeless people in a confrontation at the building.
After his release in September, he lived in a transitional house in Spanaway, but recently was told the church that runs the house was discontinuing the program.
“I thought it was just going to be another winter out on the streets,” Rose said.
While searching for new housing, he learned about the youth shelter. When he saw Miller was running it, he decided to stay there. Rose remembered Miller from a couple years ago as a decent guy who wanted to help.
“You’ve got a great man who actually helps people and does it effectively,” Rose said.
Guests at the Beacon shelter get dinner each night; the Rescue Mission is providing the food. During the week, a van will take guests to Goodwill for breakfast in the morning. Staff members and volunteers will help connect them with community resources, such as for education, employment.
The temporary shelter’s certificate of occupancy for the senior center expires at the end of March.
“The word ‘temporary’ scares me,” Rose said. “We need it year-round.”
He hopes they’ll find a permanent location by the time the temporary shelter closes, and that it can have private showers, instead of the communal ones guests use now at the YMCA.
Computers for job searching and a living room area would be good features as well, he said.
“We are really working hard to get that site identified,” Duncan, the city employee, said of the permanent location.
That shelter would be open to the same age group, and another location would house 13- to 17-year-olds overnight. By law, the younger teens can’t stay with the older ones, Miller said.
While planning for the permanent shelter is underway, people who want to help at the temporary shelter can call 253-256-3087.
Miller said they’re looking for people willing to spend time with the young adults, simply talking and maybe bringing a board game to play.
“We’re not here just to house them,” he said. “We’re here to help them succeed.”