A lot of people in Tacoma are looking forward to this month’s opening of the temporary six-bed crisis residential center for homeless youths.
Chief among them is TJ Bohl, the administrator for Pierce County Juvenile Court — and the man who oversees Remann Hall.
What does Tacoma’s juvenile detention center have to do with youths experiencing homelessness?
More than you might think.
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Two executives of Community Youth Services, which will run the new temporary CRC on Tacoma’s East Side, recently told me about an often overlooked population that will benefit from the facility:
Low- and moderate-risk youths who end up at Remann Hall after being arrested and whose parents or guardians refuse to pick them up or can’t be immediately located.
A fair number of kids … who are in the detention facility at Remann Hall and are ready to be discharged, they call the parents and the parents say, ‘I don’t want them. You know, I’m done.’ So they’re basically experiencing homelessness at that point.
Kurt Miller, executive director for Community Youth Services’ Pierce County operation
“A fair number of kids … who are in the detention facility at Remann Hall and are ready to be discharged, they call the parents and the parents say, ‘I don’t want them. You know, I’m done.’ So they’re basically experiencing homelessness at that point,” said Kurt Miller, executive director for Community Youth Services’ Pierce County operation.
Scott Hanauer, chief executive officer of Community Youth Services, said he talked about the issue at a recent training with probation officers and detention staff from around the state
“I asked how often they’d experienced kids who were ready to be discharged from detention and no one came to pick them up. One hundred percent of the staff raised their hand,” Hanauer said.
Indeed, Bohl said, such a scenario is remarkably common at Remann Hall.
Of the 1,772 kids, ages 12 through 17, who ended up at Tacoma’s juvenile detention center last year, Bohl said 65 percent were found to be low-risk, and 15 percent were moderate-risk. Those findings meant the children were eligible to be immediately released to parents or guardians and sentenced to alternative programs instead of being housed in the detention center.
Bohl described these youth offenders as charged with “really misdemeanor crimes … like shoplifting.”
Since a shift in philosophy in 2003, Remann Hall has been reserved for only high-risk offenders, a group Bohl describes as criminally “sophisticated.” The idea is to avoid putting low- and medium-risk kids in the detention center to “not have them contaminated with the high-risk kids,” Bohl explained.
“It can help stop them from going down this slippery slope of detention and criminal history, and now I can’t get a job and I’m disconnected from school,” Bohl explained.
The strategy has worked, reducing Remann Hall’s average daily population from 147 in 2003 to just 26 last year.
Still, there have been unintended consequences.
Doing the math, Bohl’s statistics mean that 1,417 kids in 2015 were immediately eligible to be released.
Of those, Bohl said, 472 — roughly one-third — had parents or guardians who refused to pick them up or whose parents couldn’t be immediately located.
“It’s a good chunk of kids,” Bohl acknowledged.
472 The number of kids released from Remann Hall in 2015 who didn’t have a parent or guardian immediately available to pick them up.
“The family said, ‘Are you kidding me, heck no. I am done with this kid. He or she is out of control,’ ” Bohl said.
Many times, Bohl said, the youth had ended up at Remann Hall in the first place because of a fight at home. So, sometimes, for an exasperated parent, the reaction is understandable. Eventually, Bohl says, most parents or guardians come around. Only 10 or 15 kids a year end up in foster care (still an unnerving number, if you think about it).
Meanwhile, the average stay of those who initially have no one to pick them up is three days.
Over the past several years, Remann Hall has worked to address the problem. They’ve surveyed families, trying to identify additional resources that might be helpful. Bohl said the detention center has also hired a mental health coordinator to help mitigate family conflicts.
But for the detention center, when the situation arises and there’s no one to pick up a kid, the question becomes: What happens then?
According to Bohl, “No kid is released to nobody. These kids are going to stay in detention until we find a parent or guardian to release them to, or we get a protective custody order. Either the kid can be released with a parent or placed with the state in foster care setting.”
That’s where something like the CRC can help.
You need some assistance. You need a timeout. You need a little break to get a game plan,” Bohl said. “That’s where, for me, the way I look at it, the CRC is perfect.
TJ Bohl, administrator for Pierce County Juvenile Court
“You need some assistance. You need a timeout. You need a little break to get a game plan,” Bohl said. “That’s where, for me, the way I look at it, the CRC is perfect.
“It’s this middle ground, where the kids can be away from home for a short period of time, but they don’t necessarily have to be in detention.”
Consider this just one more reason why the opening of Tacoma’s CRC this month is a big deal.