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Planning Underway To Open Shelter For Tacoma's Homeless Youth & Young Adults

Sue Ogrocki
AP Photo
A woman in an Oklahoma City homeless encampment adjusts her earmuffs in this 2013 file photo.

Plans to open an emergency shelter and crisis center in Tacoma to serve homeless teens and young adults are slowly moving forward.

City and Pierce County officials have jointly selected Olympia-based Community Youth Services as the operator of a proposed shelter with 20 or more beds for homeless 18- to 24-year-olds at night. The shelter would also offer access to services like mental health care, job training and education during the day.

Depending on the space they find, the facility could also potentially include a 10-bed shelter for homeless 13- to 17-year-olds that officials have also proposed. City and county officials have identified up to $1.5 billion for buying and rehabbing a building for the project. The process will likely take around a year to complete.

'There Is A Gap In The Service Continuum' 

There are transitional and shared housing options for the 300 youth in need of housing in Pierce County, says Shelley Koeppen, a contract and program auditor for the city of Tacoma. But there currently isn't an emergency shelter for homeless youth or young adults.

"There is a gap in the service continuum. We don't have the kind of tailored services and housing options we need for this population," Koeppen said.

Community Youth Services CEO Charles Shelan says the city, county and his organization are looking for a one-story, 7,000 square-foot building in a commercial area of Tacoma to house the young adult shelter and crisis center.

Because of permitting requirements, Shelan says it's best to locate the teen shelter in a separate building, or at the very least, separate the two age groups "by sight and sound." Many young adults experiencing homelessness avoid shelters because they fear "predatory behavior" from older adults there, Shelan said.

"In lieu of going to adult shelters, many will stay in unsafe living situations," Shelan said, "whether it be in a wooded encampment, whether it be in a squat, whether it be a young person — male or female — being sexually exploited, but at least they have a roof over their head."

To cover the first year of operational costs, Koeppen says the city and county have set aside a total of $750,000. But Shelan says annual operating costs might be closer to $375,000 if only the 18- to 24-year-old shelter opens at first.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.