Let me tell you the story of Emily.
She was dropped off by her mother to live at Volunteers of America (VOA) Crosswalk Youth Shelter when she was 15. Her mother was moving to Florida and her daughter was not part of the plan. Emily stayed with us, celebrating birthdays, holidays and high school graduation in our shelter. The Crosswalk staff became her family as she longed for the one she was born into but was turned away from.
When she aged out of the shelter system on her 18th birthday, she moved into VOA’s transitional youth housing program and started her adult life without the same social safety net with which her peers were equipped. She was lacking parents to help guide her through the early obstacles of adulthood.
Her story is unique, but not uncommon, as there are 3,000 youth experiencing homelessness in our community on any given night. They are either camping or couch-surfing because they are fleeing a home life that is not safe or because they are not welcomed. We strive to have all youth reunited with family, whether it be an aunt, uncle or grandparent, but this is not always possible.
This is why VOA started Crosswalk Youth Shelter in 1985, to provide a safe space for the youth in our community when home was not an option. The shelter has expanded substantially over the past few years as we have added a full -time GED instructor as well as on-site mental health counselors. VOA has been serving the greater Spokane community for 125 years, stepping beside those who are striving to overcome homelessness. With over three decades of service, we are ready to reimagine our services to help the youth in our area.
Along with the expansion of services and the increased need, our current location is not adequate. Crosswalk needs to be moved to a safer location, anchored in a neighborhood, with easy access to additional educational resources and separate space to learn, work and play. Currently, our youth have one room where they only have a Murphy-style bed to study and eat, with no real place to take a moment and rest. Within the next two years, we will be expanding and moving Crosswalk Youth Shelter, which is currently located in the downtown core, to land we purchased off Mission Street located next to Spokane Community College.
The second floor will add 18 dormitory-style rooms for youth ages 16-20 who are enrolled in an educational program and need a long-term shelter solution to focus on their education. This will be located across the street from our young adult shelter (serving 18- to 24-year-olds) that will open in spring 2022 and have a 44-bed capacity. Both resources will be an asset to this community in addressing homelessness as an episode of someone’s journey and not their continuing story as they move into adulthood. We need both spaces to assist kids like Emily who need someone to support them and help them meet their full potential.
Because of VOA’s Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Emily grew up healthy, has a family of her own and is leading a fulfilling life. Our community saw her and her potential and declared homelessness is not good enough for our kids.
Fawn Schott is chief executive officer of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.