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Jessica & Carlos: Searching for Independence

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Carlos and Jessica first walked into YouthCare’s University District Youth Center (UDYC) with teeth chattering from the cold. It had snowed the night before, and by the time UDYC opened, their shoes were soaked and their toes frozen.

The couple met when they were 14 and had been high school sweethearts. Life had not been easy. Carlos’ neighborhood in California was rocked by poverty and gang violence. He wanted out, but didn’t know how. Jessica knew that if there were to be a future for him—for them—they would have to leave. She had relatives in Seattle. It was the only place they could go free from fear and violence.

During their first two weeks in Seattle, the couple stayed in a hostel. Money was tight, and they soon moved to a homeless shelter in the U District. The shelter was only open at night, so during the day they’d walk the city, looking for respite from the winter’s freezing cold. Jessica would cry often, wondering how they were going to survive. That’s when someone recommended they go to YouthCare’s UDYC drop-in center.

At UDYC, they were immediately greeted with warmth and kindness. Staff fed them a hot meal, and helped them fill out an assessment to qualify for a place to live through King County’s housing system. They were told their chances of receiving housing were slim due to limited couples’ housing, but they knew they were better—and stronger—together. In the meantime, a staff member suggested they move to YouthCare’s Jackson Street Shelter—a program for young adults who are awaiting permanent housing and actively engaged in work or school.

The minute they arrived at Jackson Street Shelter, the couple knew something was different. “They treated us like mature adults, rather than just homeless kids,” said Jessica.

“The staff was so supportive,” chimed in Carlos. “It didn’t feel like a shelter—it felt like a family.” At night, the residents would spend hours playing a game called “table topics,” where they’d answer questions about their hopes and dreams for the future. 

Then one day, they got a call from Erin, their YouthCare case manager from UDYC. They had qualified for Rapid Re-housing, a program that provides rental assistance for apartments on the private market. A month later, they found a small place in Renton. Erin took them to YouthCare’s main office, where they were able to pick out pots, pans, pillows, and towels—the small things that make a house feel like a home.

On their first night, Carlos told Jessica to go into the other room and close her eyes. When she opened her eyes, he was down on one knee. “Marry me?” he asked. She cried and said yes.

Jessica recently got a job at a restaurant down the street from their apartment. Carlos has been applying for jobs and is eager to start working. The couple plans to save their money so they can both go back to school and pursue dreams beyond just figuring out how to survive. Jessica wants to study sociology, and Carlos wants to be a sports commentator.

YouthCare changed our lives,” said Jessica. “Sometimes I still can’t believe we’re no longer homeless. It’s hard to believe it’s real.”