Two weeks ago, the Sallal Grange hosted a community forum on homeless youth. It was a first effort, no one knew what to expect, moderator Alexis Kaplan explained. It turned out though, that Kaplan’s niece, Bridget Whittington, new to the Valley this past year, knew just what would come out of it.
“This is a community full of people with huge hearts,” she said in a recap of the meeting last week.
Kaplan happily reported that “People were very enthused, there were 60 people there… It was a very compassionate crowd, and many were already engaged in activities to help homeless youth.”
Trissa Dexheimer, who helped to organize the event, added “In a lot of ways, it felt like getting stakeholders together.”
Motivated stakeholders, too. Participants included staff from the school district, Friends of Youth, Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, Teen Closet, the Snoqualmie Valley YMCA, Congregations for the Homeless, and small independent groups doing their own outreach, and many of them wanted to establish solutions now.
The Grange will host a second forum Wednesday Nov. 2. The urgency is driven by the coming cold weather, and by a report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that the Snoqualmie Valley School District has 60 homeless youth — roughly the same number as people in the room, but, says Dexheimer, probably not an accurate number. Dexheimer works for the Snoqualmie Valley Winter Shelter, but noted that she was speaking only for herself.
Considering the numbers of youth who aren’t in school to be surveyed, or who don’t voluntarily identify themselves as homeless, “it’s definitely an undercount,” she said.
The actual number, which the women noted includes elementary-age students, was closer to 100, depending on how homelessness was defined.
“There are kids literally in the woods, and they’re not in that count,” said Whittington.
“Couch surfing isn’t in their definition of homelessness,” added Dexheimer.
At the winter shelter, she said, children can stay only when accompanied by an adult. Those under 18 are referred to Friends of Youth, which operates an emergency shelter for children ages 7 to 17 in Redmond. The organization also briefly operated a shelter in Snoqualmie in 2012 for ages 18 to 24, but closed after two months because of low use.
Dexheimer said she’s seen 18-year-olds at the winter shelter, including one still in high school, trying to get to graduation.
“It’s just stunning to see a high school student try to do homework in a shelter,” she said.
A youth shelter was one idea from the first forum, Kaplan said, as were a “teen feed,” and outreach programs, but each of them has a weakness — not all the youth they are trying to reach will trust a shelter, or a free meal.
“While it’s great to have a shelter you can refer kids to, it’s going to take a while, not every kid will want to go,” Whittington said.
One reason for their inherent distrust could be a somewhat surprising fact, “A large proportion of homeless teens are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning),” Kaplan said.
Most of the solutions, they all acknowledged, would take time, but some are actually well under way. Kaplan said “Anyone who wants to plug into these things can come to the meeting on the 2nd,” where she hopes they will be organized into teams to move ahead with all of the goals, from establishing a shelter to creating a website with a list of all the resources available to homeless youth. For more information, visit www.sallalgrange.org.