Hope is brewing for Tacoma’s homeless teens

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

We were made for love and home. Like salmon returning, penguins marching and turtles seeking water, we innately seek love and home. This is our humanity – babies, teens, adults – all of us.

Sometimes the road is foggy, we get off track or we are surrounded by darkness. But there is a flickering, gnawing hope, pulling us home.

The fog was so thick on my drive the other morning when I saw a young boy alone by the roadside. He was wrapped in a thin, wet, Disney-themed comforter, and looked to be about 15 years old. He looked like he had no home, no love.

But I didn’t stop. I had learned there was no place to take him in Pierce County. There was nowhere he could find shelter, warmth, love or home. I drove past, but his image wouldn’t go away. I’ve been carrying this boy in my heart and it feels as heavy as that wet blanket.

We’ve all been carrying around the weight of this community-wide problem of homeless teens with nowhere to go. There hasn’t been room in Tacoma’s inn. Kids under 18 aren’t allowed into overnight shelters, no matter the weather or circumstance. No exceptions.

Over the past year I’ve joined with a group of determined mothers searching for a solution. We knocked on the doors of state agencies and state-run services, different communities and shelters. I am happy to report the search has now led to a potential light.

We joined forces with Tacoma Police Detective Terese Carroll who had followed some teen runaways to Bremerton. It was there, in Kitsap County, the youth found help, a light in the fog, a place that was changing lives.

The refuge is called The Coffee Oasis and it’s lived up to its name. Detective Carroll met the founder, Dave Frederick, and asked him to please consider Tacoma for another location. We moms joined with her in a chorus of begging.

Frederick is like the peace-soaked Gandhi of the Pacific Northwest, extending an open hand to teens who’ve only known closed fists. Twenty years ago, as a police chaplain, he couldn’t find resources to help these homeless teens. So with his wife and four kids, he began taking them off the streets and into their home.

Then they bought a little coffee shop to get those teens some job training. The Coffee Oasis grew from there. It’s now in five cities with 75 employees, and it’s received outstanding reviews. Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, churches, and teens who have been helped can’t say enough good things. TV stations have done features. A documentary is in the works.

And other cities are asking for help. Frederick has connected with local youth resources like Graduate Tacoma, Amara, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs, Vadis and the Oasis Youth Center. All youth are welcome, all faiths, races, genders and sexual orientations. Teens who struggle with addictions or mental health issues can find shelter, too.

The Coffee Oasis not only provides housing, job services, case management, school and court liaisons, it also has five rustic and elegant cafes with self-roasted coffee. The proceeds support homeless youth.

In Tacoma, an overnight shelter and day center will open at the former St. Ann’s orphanage. I can say with certainty you feel the peace on these 9 acres; plus, it’s close to the mall and centrally located on the bus line.

The Coffee Oasis cafes will come next. Along with great coffee to serve the community, they’ll provide hope and new beginnings for those who need it most.

Join us on this journey. We can’t just keep driving by these kids. When our cities, counties, nonprofits, churches, businesses and individual partners work together, we can create home and love for every person.

Let’s brew some love, Tacoma!

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