What do you do mean you’ve “consolidated resources and teams?”

YouthCare offers a comprehensive range of services including prevention, shelter, housing, education, and employment training. We have temporarily suspended the majority of our education, employment, and prevention programs to focus exclusively on the core services of food, shelter, and housing. Staff from suspended programs have been redeployed to help run core programs and keep young people safe.

All YouthCare shelter and housing programs remain open with the exception of our four under-18 shelter programs, which we have consolidated into two locations.

What do you mean you’ve transitioned to a “24/7 shelter-in-place” model?

Our shelter and housing programs are serving a fixed group of young people with 24/7 staffing and supports. Young people are being asked to stay inside per Governor Inslee’s stay-at-home order. We have increased indoor activities and are supporting young people to take breaks and safe walks outside.

How is this model different from your regular housing services?

YouthCare runs multiple communal and independent living programs where young people have always been able to stay 24/7. The biggest difference right now is the limitation of movement. Young people are free to go outside, but they are not permitted to have visitors or leave and come back unless they have been pre-approved for essential employment or other duties. Additionally, because young people can’t come and go from the program, they are sharing communal meals three times a day. This is why YouthCare’s food needs have risen substantially.

How is this model different from your regular shelter services?

YouthCare operates three engagement centers: Jackson Street in Columbia City, University District Youth Center (UDYC) in the University District, and the Orion Center in South Lake Union. All three engagement centers are traditionally open during certain hours of the day. They are intended to be an easily accessible place where young people can eat a hot meal, meet their basic needs, and connect with a staff member. At night, two of the centers—Jackson Street and the Orion Center—transition into an overnight shelter where young people have a guaranteed bed while they work on obtaining long-term housing.

Under regular circumstances, the engagement centers are not open to youth around the clock—and they’re not designed to be. For example, we often have over a hundred young people accessing different services at the Orion Center at different times of the day. The same goes for staff. To keep our clients safe and comply with the Governor’s stay-at-home order, we have now combined day and night services into one 24-hour housing program with limited movement and a fixed number of young people.

*Note this is not the same for under-18 shelter programs which, per state law, have different licensing and staffing requirements that that already mandate 24/7 supervision*

What about UDYC, your third engagement center? Where are those young people sleeping?

YouthCare’s University District Youth Center (UDYC) only offers day services and is too small to support an overnight shelter. UDYC has partnered with ROOTS Young Adult Shelter, University Congregational Church, and Teen Feed in the University District so that young people can have consistent meals and additional activity space during the day and shelter at night.

What are some of the safety challenges within shelter programs?

Health and safety procedures are particularly challenging for shelter programs as they rely on communal space and resources: shared sleeping quarters, meals, laundry, bathrooms, etc. Young people do not have the ability to go to their own room or the privilege of privacy. We are trying to be as creative with space as possible—repurposing classrooms, conference rooms, and office space—and have implemented increased cleaning cycles and disinfectant procedures.

How is the model working out in shelter programs?

It is a hard transition; prioritizing safety creates other difficulties as well. As we noted above, young people are used to moving in and out of the building frequently and accessing services as needed. We find ourselves grappling with the core tension between personal freedom and collective safety—navigating the complicated balance of keeping our doors open and shut at the same time.

Like all of us, young people are not used to such stringent expectations, confined space, and limited movement. Moreover, many of the young people we serve at our engagement centers have acute behavioral health needs. Many are coping with profound trauma, chemical dependency, and social anxiety. A global pandemic makes it all the more intense and challenging.

How is YouthCare’s COVID-19 response impacting staff?

Our staff are youth-focused and mission-passionate: everyone wants to do the very best for young people. Right now, familiar frameworks and structures have disappeared, and decisions are being prioritized through the lens of public health, which can be hard. YouthCare’s teams are first responders in this crisis, experiencing profound pressures that will not be alleviated easily or quickly. They are navigating massive change, new procedures, and, for some, new locations—all in a short period of time and under the duress of a global pandemic.

To mitigate transitions in programs and give staff time to rest, recharge, and see family, we’ve moved to a 12-hour shift model with two to three shifts per week. Additionally, all staff working directly with young people are making time and a half compensation.

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: our staff are heroes. Their tenacity, their courage, their resilience, and their grit cannot be captured in words. If you would like to send them an encouraging note, you can write a personalized message note via this form.

How many young people are you serving?

YouthCare is currently serving approximately 200 youth and young adults ages 12-24 across our shelter and housing programs in the greater Seattle area.

Are you accepting referrals for new clients?

Most of our programs are at-capacity. For the few openings we have, we are accepting new referrals. All new clients are undergoing rigorous health screenings before entering the programs.

Do you have personal protective equipment (PPE)?

While we are not healthcare providers, YouthCare is providing basic healthcare. Like our peers and nearly every medical or service environment in the nation, we are doing everything we can to source PPE and keep our staff and young people safe. Touchless thermometers are expected to arrive soon and will be distributed to program locations along with expanded screening protocols. We are indebted to a variety of community members who are making face coverings and masks for YouthCare staff and clients.

Are you hiring? Do you need more staff members?

Yes, we are hiring—both for temporary positions to provide relief through this crisis and for permanent positions across the agency. YouthCare has many staff members who are parents, caretakers, or are uniquely at risk; many do not have the ability to work full-time in program locations at this time. We are making do on lean staffing ratios to keep core services open 24/7. If you are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and want to help youth experiencing homelessness achieve long-term stability, we are conducting virtual interviews and seeking new members for our teams. Please use this link to view current opportunities.

What’s the best way to help?

The best way you can help us right now is by making a financial gift. Responding to this crisis is costly and we need to remain nimble to meet the demands of each day. Every dollar is powerful. We thank you for your support.

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