South Lake Union

Youth homeless shelter fighting to stay alive in Seattle

Youth homeless shelter fighting to stay alive in Seattle »Play Video

SEATTLE -- Brittany B. has suffered more in her 19 years than some do in a lifetime.

"I've slept under bridges, I've fallen asleep on bus stop benches, wherever I could, wherever I felt safe," said Brittany, who often squatted in the Georgetown neighborhood.

She admits that she struggled with chemical dependency since she age 13, and said being homeless near Detroit was rougher than the streets of Seattle.

"I've watched people beat to death in Michigan squat houses," she said.

The future for Seattle's homeless young adults is not nearly as bright as the neon green building at the base of Capitol Hill where they seek shelter. The emergency shelter for 18- to 24-year olds inside Youthcare's James W. Ray Orion Center is set to shut down in February and has already started turning away the homeless.

"It breaks your heart to know the next day they won't be in any shape to go to school or to a work training program," said executive director Melinda Giovengo.

Giovengo also said the young people turned away are more likely to get assaulted or abused and they are uncomfortable in adult shelters.

"They find it creepy. They've never been able to trust an adult in their life and we have no place to put them," she said.

A three-year shelter-funding program is expiring, and a federal grant that helped Youthcare's outreach and drop-in program wasn't renewed.

"Which means fewer meal offerings, fewer opportunities for young people to come in to just get the basic attachment to services and safety nets to keep them clean, dry, fed, warm, and connected with someone that will help them move forward," Giovengo said.

Brittany said she's moved forward because of her connections at Youthcare. She said they helped her find a job, and through that she found housing. Case workers are helping her enroll in college and get her GED, and they helped her get vital documents and ID.

"It's really amazing when you feel like you finally have someone in your corner and you finally have someone fighting with you instead of against you, cause people look down on you out on the street and they look at you like you are the scum of the earth," Brittany said.

The shelter closing means Seattle will have 26 percent fewer beds for young homeless adults. Up to 20 a night are now being turned away. Budget cuts will not affect Youthcare's offsite shelter for teens 18 and under.

Brittany worries about her homeless friends who need to know someone cares like the staff she encountered at the Orion Center.

"They care if you wake up in the morning. The worst feeling in the world is laying your head down at night knowing that if you didn't wake up the next morning, no one was going to miss you," she said.

Youthcare hasn't given up on receiving money. It's banking on the Seattle City Council and King County Council to deliver some financial help.