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June 5, 2014     Shelton Mason County Journal
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June 5, 2014

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iii .... J L I Ill illl I Ill [ = Page A-16 - Mason County Journal - Thursday, June 5, 2014 TEEN HOMELESSNESS IN MASON COUNTY How can we help? Some suggest expanding HOSTprogram a solution By GORDON WEEKS gordon@masoncoun com How can homeless teens in Shel- ton be served better? The consensus: a roof over their heads is essential. %Ve need housing options for teens who are not living with their parent or guardian," said Gail Straus, who works with homeless students as the director of federal programs and Early Childhood Education with the Shelton School District. "Although we have the HOST program, a supervised teen shelter with sleeping and shower facilities is needed." The HOST program supports homeless youths between the ages of 18 and 21 by providing tempo- rary housing, monthly stipends, case management and job shadow opportunities. Homeless teens would also be better served with a daytime drop- in place in Shelton, Straus said. %Ve need a teen center that would not only serve homeless teens, but also teens who are at- risk," she said. "I envision a center that would be a place where adult mentor support and tutoring could be provided, but would also offer healthy and safe recreation options (such as) art classes, a climbing wall, support groups, etc." And, "We need adult mentors to help teens who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school reconnect with the school system," Straus said. Toby Kevin, a member of the Community Lifeline board of di- rectors, recommends channeling efforts into Shelten School District programs. "They could use a lot more re- sources to serve the needs of the 300 or so homeless kids the system is aware of," he said. 'orking in concert with CHOICE Alterna- tive School, they can get kids back in school, and/or keep them there, which in turn can put them in the situation where they can be more productive and eventually afford housing. All of these can use more resources: ftmds, overt leadership by city and county government, and simply more volunteers." Kevin added, "Programs like Youth Empowerment Strategies are just scratching the surface and are getting lukewarm support from all but a few in government. These programs need funds, volunteers and help with organization and business management." As for the HOST program, "Any- one can volunteer for this, assuming they have space and other circum- stances that allow it," he said. Jerry Eckenrode, owner of KMAS Radio in Shelton, agrees. "There are existing programs like HOST in the community that work. How do we build on the programs that are working?" she asked. City of Shelten officials can also step up, Eckenrode said. "The city could better serve the homeless teens by demonstrating leadership through recognizing homeless teens are a problem in the city of Shelton," she said. "Then be- gin to address the problem by em- ploying city, business, community and teen leaders -- both homeless and teen leaders in school -- to identify the causes of the homeless situation and seek potential resolu- tions." Teen homelessness "is a problem locally as well as nationally," said Lt. Les Watson, interim police chief for the city of Shelton. "We have organizations here that help in ways within their means, but unfortunately the issue per- sists," he said. "My first thoughts on this are to back up for a second and take a look back in time to what precipitated the situation of home- lessness." He added, "Educating our kids to the importance of focusing on their future at an early age, I think, is imperative. There are kids whose circumstances put them at a great disadvantage no matter their choic- es -- that's certhJnly sad -- but oth- ers who made bad choices along the way that contribute significantly to their situation of homelessness." Cat Ross, executive director of North Mason Resource in Belfair, stresses that Mason County's home- lessness challenges are not confined to Shelton. "Here in the north part of the county, a shelter would help," she said. 'qNe have 97 homeless stu- dents in the North Mason School District. Shelton has its own home- less and a great teen program (with) HOST homes. If we could expand this program to help our teens in the north end, it would be great." Money isn't available to create a HOST office in North Mason, Ross said. "HOST homes would expand if there was money to pay a living wage for those that help the teens," she said. "Plus incentive money, as many of these students need ad- ditional items most teens take for granted." Homeless: Student graduates CHOICE continued from page A-15 job interview. "I was really lost... After time, I got used to it," he said. He ate at the soup kitchen and the community meals offered by Community Lifeline, and stole food from a Shelten grocery stere. He was banned from a coffeehouse for using its bathroom; he used the re- strooms at the armory building un- til it closed. Dowty found shelter from the storms at the Starbuck's section in Safeway, and inside the Shelton Civic Center. He said police cut holes in his tent behind Les Schwab, to let the rain in. Shelton needs "a place to go during the day when it's cold out," Dowty said. The city also needs no- income and low-income housing, housing programs for young people, and someone to organize one drop- in site that would offer all the re- sources, he said. After a year of homelessness, Dowty said his family decided to help him. They found a downtown apartment and paid the down pay- ment, while HOST helped pay his rent. Dowty said his first night in his own home was "extremely quiet." He rolled out his sleeping bag and slept on the floor. Two months ago, Dowty was talking about plans to return to CHOICE Alternative School to com- Journal photo by Gordon Weeks Despite being homeless off and on since she was 12, KeAndra Radchenko graduated from CHOICE Alternative School in February. She told her stow as the student speaker at the graduation ceremony. At 18, she remains homeless. plete his GED, and perhaps contin- ue his education to become a history teacher. Instead, he lost his apartment, and is homeless again. KeANDRA Radchenko said her mother used methamphetamine and other drugs, leaving her to fend for her two younger sisters and herself. "I was the one who was feeding them and cleaning them," she said. When Radchenko was 12, she and a friend ran away to Olympia; a year later, they were wandering the streets of downtown Seattle. The two girls begged for money on the streets, and were often ha- rassed, Radchenko said. An old homeless man showed the girls where they could sleep: inside the pedestrian bridge to the ferry ter- minal. As for Radchenko's family, "They just thought I was being a rebellious teenager," she said. She added, "I didn't want to rat out my morn." When Radchenko turned 16, her father persuaded her to go back to school. He died later that year of cir- rhosis of the liver. "My dad was like my idol," Rad- chenko said. "He was my every- thing." Radchenko focused her energies on school. She sometimes slept at her grandmotheFs house, and for a spell at a friend's apartment. Some nights, she and Pippins slept inside a heater-less car on the streets of Shelton. Radchenko recalls one specific low point: sitting shoeless in the car, with its hole in the floor, out of gasoline and money. Parked on downtown streets at night, passer- bys knock on the window and ask, "Are you OK in there?" For income, Radchenko receives $50 a month from HOST. Both she and Pippins were on the community committee that launched the pro- gram; both serve as Youth in Action youth leaders. The community needs to "step up" to help homeless teens, Rad- chenko said. "If Shelton helps us, we can help Shelton." BYTHE NUMBERS For the 2012-2013 school year 2,92 percent of K-12 students statewide were homeless as defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Act percent of Shelton School District students who were is homeless 13.66 percent of Shelton School District seniors who were homeless 473 percent increase in homeless students in Washington during the past five years 30,609 students identified as homeless in Washington in 2012-2013, an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year, and the sixth consecutive year of statewide increases Student homelessness defined The federal McKinney-Vinto Act defines a student as homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. This definition includes children and youth living in shelters, transitional housing, cars, campgrounds, motels, and sharing the housing of others temporarily due to loss of housing, economic hardship or similar reasons. Source: Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction I i II Ji il i!11 I III 7!i!