Her voice trembled as she shared her story for the first time, two weeks ago, in front of a large Tacoma crowd.
“I was 14, so cold I couldn’t stop shaking,” she said. “There is nothing scarier than sleeping under a bridge.”
Kids and adults from all over Tacoma responded to my Facebook post asking for help, and it was overwhelming.
There was a tsunami of love and generosity from this eclectic group, assembling 500 comfort bags with personal love notes of encouragement, and collecting 800 coats for the estimated 800 teens experiencing homelessness.
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Now they listened, speechless, to this young girl’s very real and raw journey, and to Mary Grant, who has worked in the trenches and under the bridges of Tacoma for 20 years with the Campfire organization, bringing blankets and coats to our teens who have no home.
Teens experience homelessness for many reasons: drugs, physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental health issues, poverty, marginalization for being LGBTQ, etc.
But I believe, bottom line, that every child should have a warm place to rest his or her head.
In 2014, millions of dollars were granted from the Washington state Legislature for an overnight shelter for teens. Bravo.
Except now it is 2017.
And there’s still no shelter.
And winter is fast approaching.
And there weren’t any coats, socks or underwear for these kids three years later.
And the children continue to sleep under the bridge.
A few years ago I was on the task force for Nativity House to build 50 units of permanent housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness. Bravo.
Except kids under 18 are not allowed in.
Not in Nativity House or Tacoma Rescue Mission or the young adult shelter at the Beacon Senior Center.
“It would be unsafe” is the explanation I’ve been given.
So the children, under 18, continue to sleep under the bridge.
Tacoma, we are a beloved community. Let’s link arms among government, nonprofits, businesses, neighborhood groups, concerned citizens. Let’s give shelter to every child, no one excluded.
So I hear there’s an overnight shelter being planned on the Eastside — a 12-bed facility, which children can stay a maximum of a few nights.
But what about tonight? And in December? And once it’s built, where will these kids go after their few nights are up?
Let’s be innovative. There’s a tsunami of love out there in our community. Maybe if we are all open to working together, something beautiful can happen.
No more children should be forced to sleep under a bridge. If this continues to happen, we (myself included) are all culpable.
Angela Connelly of Tacoma is an advocate for women and children whose service record includes the boards of Catholic Community Services, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and the Larche communities for people with disabilities. Reach her by email at Angelayconnelly@hotmail.com