For many young people, the holidays bring up images of being at home and spending time with family, but for some, going home is not an option.
Friends of Youth chief operating officer Terry Pottmeyer said on any given night, up to 2,000 youths in King County are homeless. The reasons are numerous. Some are escaping violent homes; others are 18 and have outgrown foster care; and others still are unemployed or underemployed and unable to find affordable housing.
Whatever the reason for their homelessness, Pottmeyer said the holiday season does not make things easier for the youths.
“When you’re homeless and don’t have a family, that’s a difficult time,” she said.
Friends of Youth is a Redmond-based nonprofit organization that works with young people in challenging circumstances. They serve youth on the Eastside as well as the surrounding King and Snohomish counties. Their services include in-home family support for young parents of newborns, parent education, youth and family counseling and substance abuse counseling. Friends of Youth also runs the only overnight emergency shelter on the Eastside for young adults.
The Landing, at 14230 Bel-Red Road in Bellevue, is operated out of the Bellevue YMCA and serves young adults ages 18 to 24. The shelter is open Sunday through Thursday nights starting at 8:30 p.m. There is only space to accommodate 15 individuals to stay overnight. Pottmeyer said if more than 15 guests show up in a night, a lottery drawing is used to determine who can stay overnight. Those who can’t stay the night can still come to The Landing to take a shower, enjoy a warm meal provided by donors, do laundry and just be inside.
But Pottmeyer said they do try to help those they have to turn away for the night.
“We try to call other shelters in the area,” Pottmeyer said.
If other shelters have space, youths are given a bus pass that will give them a means of getting to the shelter. People can also check out blankets for the night.
Guests can also see a health nurse, who comes to the shelter once a week, if they are dealing with any medical issues, Pottmeyer added. A counselor is also available to work with the youths and help them figure out why they are homeless, and when they are ready, help them make the changes to get their life back on track.
Velvet Heaps has been shelter coordinator for The Landing for about a year and a half and said turning away people is the most difficult part of the job. She said this doesn’t happen every night, but it is still frustrating. And in the time she’s been on the job, Heaps said things have not been getting better.
“(The number of people we serve) just keeps going up,” she said.
In 2006, The Landing served 159 unduplicated clients. So far this year, they have served 249. And the average number of clients they have per night has gone up from about 10 in 2006 to almost 13 this year.
Like Pottmeyer, Heaps said this time of year is especially hard for people who are on the streets, not just with the holidays, but with the colder weather as well. However, Heaps said so far this winter, they have seen less people coming to The Landing. She said this may be because people are more willing to open their homes to others.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Despite the rising numbers, Friends of Youth staff must still work to get the word out about their organization. As a street outreach worker for Friends of Youth, Je’Warren Coles spends his time doing just this. He’s been on the job for almost a year, but has been working for the nonprofit since 2007. He began as a peer leader, working as a middleman between clients and caseworkers. Now in his new position, Coles deals with the community — police departments, schools and counselors — to let people know about Friends of Youth and the services they provide. He said one of the biggest challenges of his job has been dealing with the disconnect between the homeless population and the general population. There are certain stigmas and stereotypes that are associated with homeless people and Coles said getting people to look past these assumptions and see that homelessness is more situational (economic issues, family troubles, out of foster care, etc.) is not easy.
He added that homelessness on the Eastside is not as visible as in cities such as Seattle, where there are more, what he calls chronically homeless youth, who choose to live on the streets. Coles said more youths on the Eastside are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control, such as being kicked out of the house by their parents.
Because of this, Coles said some of their clients are able to go home for the holidays and spend time with their families. The issues are usually only resolved temporarily, but for some of their clients, that’s enough.
“A lot of them are appreciative to spend time with their families,” Coles said. “Those who don’t, you see that longing.”
To help during these difficult times, Friends of Youth has a Giving Tree program where businesses, individuals or families can purchase gifts for the organization’s clients. Pottmeyer said ideal gifts include warm clothes, sleeping bags, bus passes, tents and gift cards to grocery stores, drug stores or any where that sells basic-needs items such as food and toiletries. Pottmeyer said they are collecting gifts until Dec. 15.
Although it is not normally open on Fridays or Saturdays The Landing will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas this year.
For more information about donating gifts or dinner to The Landing, email email@example.com or call (425) 449-3868. For more information about Friends of Youth and all of their services, visit www.friendsofyouth.org.