Coffee and 2nd chances for Tacoma kids under bridges

Angela Connelly is one of six reader columnists for The News Tribune.
Angela Connelly is one of six reader columnists for The News Tribune. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

As a mom, there are a few things I know for sure. One is that collaboration is beautiful. Another is that when it comes to solving most problems, collaboration is the best way forward. And last, every child is my child, your child, our child. We’re all the moms and dads of our Tacoma Village.

I was recently awakened to some wounds in our Tacoma family at a Beacon Center community dinner where I met Sienna for the second time. Sienna had been my son’s classmate at St. Patrick’s Catholic School up through 4th grade. At the dinner I was shocked to discover that she’d become a teen experiencing homelessness.

When Sienna and I later met for coffee, I began to understand the depth of this problem, right here in our city. There are too many young people on our streets. Our city, as great as it is, has no overnight shelters for youths under age 18, and the agency that was helping 18 to 24-year-olds just announced it is leaving Tacoma at the end of the year.

This means many Tacoma teens who have no homes are forced to sleep wherever they can find shelter. Tacoma’s kids, our kids, are sleeping under bridges.

Sienna made me want to find a solution. She made me need to find a solution. As a mother, I know that we as a community must go beyond borders. We need to welcome every child because every human being deserves shelter from the cold and food on the table. I refuse to call these teens Tacoma’s forgotten kids.

But is there a solution?

Drumroll, please… Yes, there’s hope in the air, Tacoma. And it’s going to be a beautiful spring!

The cries of these homeless teens have been heard. A collaborative coalition, where everyone has a seat at the table, has been born. This unified force includes moms, dads, former mayors, legislators, City Council members, leaders of non-profits, business CEOs, architects, church leaders, and concerned citizens.

Community members are linking arms and saying “yes” to our kids and “no” to leaving them sleeping under bridges.

A beautiful Coffee Oasis is planned for Tacoma. Not only will it be a shop with delicious coffee, amazing food and a cool community meeting spot, it will also be an overnight shelter for 16-20-year-olds with wrap-around services.

The first Coffee Oasis was started in Kitsap County 20 years ago by founder Dave Frederick. It offers a complete model of care for homeless teens. It is a beautiful coffeehouse open to the public that also provides job training, host families and counselors who guide children and give them hope.

For the Tacoma venue, we have our eyes on the beautiful old former Rite Aid building in the heart of the Hilltop neighborhood; it’s been sitting empty and unused for years. Her crown is worn, and today she is robed with garbage and disorder, but this old building is beautiful, just like these teens, and her potential is huge, just like the lives of these young people.

We have an opportunity to restore it all. We can reclaim the old building, reclaim these teens, and as a collaborative community, roll up our sleeves and bring order and renewal back to this queen of Hilltop and to our cherished youth who could soon have a place to go.

As a mom, I am begging everyone — every leader, non-profit, church, business, concerned citizen — to come sit at the table and wrap these kids and our community in love, support and shelter.

Sienna is no longer homeless; she is a restaurant employee, just moved into her first apartment and is planning to attend a local college this fall. She is also part of our coalition and says she wishes there had been a Coffee Oasis when she was on the streets.

We now have a chance to help other Siennas.

C’mon, Tacoma. Let’s have coffee!

Angela Connelly of Tacoma is president of the Washington Women’s Network. She is one of six reader columnists who write weekly for this page. Reach her by email at angelayconnelly@hotmail.com