In two years, Tacoma should have a 12-bed crisis residential center — known as a CRC in the social services business — for youths ages 12 to 17. It will be a place where youths experiencing homelessness can stay for up to 15 days, while staff members meet their immediate needs and address their long-term housing plan.
The facility, to be built on 3.5-acres of land that Tacoma Housing Authority owns near its Salishan development, will be crucial for Tacoma and Pierce County’s efforts to reduce homelessness, and specifically youth homelessness.
But for the alarming number of youths currently experiencing homelessness in Pierce County – like, right now – two years is a long time. The 2016 Point in Time Count found 65 sheltered and 25 unsheltered homeless youths in Pierce County, and these are just the kids who were counted.
How will the city and county address this need until the new center is built?
It’s a question that’s being answered at a nondescript residential home on Tacoma’s East Side. It’s here, amid the sound of nail guns and air compressors, that last week a work crew hurried to put the finishing touches on a remodel that will transform the property into a temporary 6-bed CRC.
It’s set to open in mid-November and will be largely funded by money allocated by the Legislature.
The facility will be operated by Community Youth Services, the nonprofit that runs the shelter for young adults at the Beacon Senior Center in downtown Tacoma, as well as Olympia’s Haven House, a 40-year-old CRC that serves some 360 to 400 youths a year, according to Scott Hanauer, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer.
Kurt Miller, executive director for Community Youth Services’ Pierce County operation, on the difference opening a temporary CRC in Tacoma can make.
Kurt Miller, a former Tacoma School Board member, is the executive director for Community Youth Services’ Pierce County operation. He and his staff will oversee the new temporary CRC on the East Side, and the new one once it’s built. These facilities will provide a haven for homeless youths who are too young for shelter services designed for young adults.
During a tour of the soon-to-open facility, Miller was optimistic about the difference it can make — calling it potentially “huge” — while also acknowledging the sizable need and the limitations of this temporary fix.
“As I go to meetings, I’m hearing, ‘Oh, good, we have the beds!’ I have to remind everybody, six beds at a time. So we have to be realistic.”
“There will still be a waitlist.”
Miller said even six beds should allow Community Youth Services to reach 250 to 300 kids a year in Pierce County. The operation will mirror what happens at Haven House, where, Hanaeur says, “95 percent of the kids … return back to a stable placement.”
Once the CRC opens, social workers and local law enforcement will begin referring youths to it. Other homeless youths, according to Miller, will find their own way there.
The preferred outcome, Hanauer says, is reuniting youths experiencing homelessness with their families, “if that’s possible.” If it’s not, Community Youth Services works with local foster care families to provide safe homes. The agency touts a track record of success.
These are youth who have left pretty traumatic experiences. What we hear a lot is it’s safer for them on the street than where they came from, but they really don’t want to be on the street. So if they have a safe place to be with caring adults, they’ll find their way here.
Scott Hanauer, chief executive officer of Community Youth Services
“When a youth comes in, the first thing we want to do is meet their basic needs. Oftentimes they’re cold, they’re hungry, they’re dehydrated, they haven’t eaten. So, right away, that’s the focus,” Hanaeur said. “The second part of that is really engaging with the youth.
“These are youth who have left pretty traumatic experiences. What we hear a lot is it’s safer for them on the street than where they came from, but they really don’t want to be on the street. So if they have a safe place to be with caring adults, they’ll find their way here.”
Community Youth Services is withholding the exact location of the home to protect the privacy of the youths who will be housed there, but the property is owned by Tacoma Housing Authority. According to THA Executive Director Michael Mirra, his agency is permitting free use of the property as “part of longer range THA plans for a variety of housing and services for homeless and needy children, youth and young adults in Tacoma.”
Mirra said the need for a CRC is one of several priorities identified over the past few years as the city and county attempt to deal with a “growing number of homeless youth without families and homeless young adults.” Mirra said other priorities, including the overnight shelter for young adults, a day drop-in center for youths and young adults, transitional housing for youths, and employment opportunities and training are either in the works or up and running, for the first time in Tacoma.
“Helping these children and young people to a better childhood and into a more hopeful adolescence and adulthood is a very good use of a housing dollar,” Mirra said.
That’s hard to dispute.
“It’s our role to start the healing process, the moment they come in the door,” Miller said last week, as a work crew buzzed around him.
For Tacoma and Pierce County’s homeless youths, that door can’t open soon enough.