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Connect: For teens, a shelter from life’s storms

It’s shortly before noon on a brisk Monday. The sun is out, shining through a landscape somebody painted on the storefront window facing Howard Street. At round tables teenagers are gathered in twos and threes, some reading, some drawing, some chatting.

It’s an ordinary day at Crosswalk, the teen shelter in downtown Spokane.

The place feels the same way most any school feels about 11 in the morning, quiet but busy. The beds and cots used at night are stowed away.

In the kitchen, volunteers from Community of Christ Church are getting ready to serve lunch: sloppy Joes, chips, and celery and carrot sticks.

“Listen up – it’s time for announcements – listen,” Laurel Kelly, the youth coordinator, says, clapping her hands as teens scamper toward her. “First, let’s say thank you for lunch. Then, we’re still going over to the STA plaza today to serve some meals – we’ll let you know what to do if you want to help out.”

Kelly runs down a few other announcements as hungry teens wait for their warm lunch. Full plates in hand, they wander back to the tables to eat.

From 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., Crosswalk is an emergency shelter for teens ages 13 to 17. They need parental permission to stay at the shelter.

“We usually get that when we call,” says Kelly. “If we can’t reach a parent, then sometimes we can work it out with the Police Department.”

From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Crosswalk is a multi-service program that provides everything from shelter from the weather to a full-time chemical dependency program, GED classes, a clothing bank, classes on independent living and three meals a day.

“We don’t take little children and we don’t take pets,” says Kelly, “but you can stay here if you are a teen and you are pregnant.” Teen moms with small children can sometimes find a spot at Alexandria’s House, which is run by nonprofit Volunteers of America – as is Crosswalk.

Between 50 and 60 kids move through the building for lunch – any teen is welcome through the regular intake process. Crosswalk served 16,000 meals last year.

“People don’t realize that we serve so much food,” Kelly says. “Some teens also use us as their mailing address, even after they leave.”

The shelter can sleep 21 at a time, 16 on fold-down beds and five on cots.

“I think we have 12 to 15 kids here on a regular basis. We are never at full capacity, which of course is good,” Kelly says.

Crosswalk has been around since 1985. Every year, the shelter takes care of about 1,000 kids.

“We are doing more to teach life skills now,” says Kelly, opening the door to the clothing bank, a washer rumbling in the background. “This teen came in and told me he needed to throw his clothes away. I asked why and he said, ‘Well, it’s really dirty. I just can’t wear it anymore.’ And it was very dirty, but the point is he’d never been in a life situation where it was normal to have a washer and do laundry. All he knew how to do was to throw his clothes away when it got too dirty.”

There’s steady traffic in and out of the shelter. Some teens know one another and chat, catching up on boyfriends and girlfriends and new puppies – in the same sentence explaining how they got beat up or who left a ring of tender, finger-shaped purple marks around someone’s neck.

Aside from that, the teens here don’t look different than the teens at Lewis and Clark High School, on the other side of the freeway. They group themselves by “emo” and “hippie” and “gangsta” as they try to find their way through adolescence without a stable home to return to when the day is over.

“One thing I really like about this place is that we do our best to meet the kids where they are at,” Kelly says. “No matter where they are at it’s OK with us, and we’ll do our best to get them the help they need.”

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