Could Seattle’s legal pot cause surge in homeless youth?
SEATTLE — When Hempfest, a celebration of all things related to cannabis, kicks off in Seattle in just a few weeks, the number of young people showing up at the city’s youth shelters will surge.
“If you don’t have an ID and we haven’t seen you before, we won’t let you in because we just end up with an influx of kids,” said Mary Steele, executive director of New Horizons.
Steele is also worried that, with legal pot shops now opening up in Seattle, that surge of young people at her shelter may be permanent.
“The biggest concern is we’re going to see an influx of young people who are coming here solely to engage in recreational pot,” said Steele.
And those young people could eat up the resources that others trying to get off the street desperately need.
It’s already happening in Denver. Legal pot shops in Colorado have already been open nearly eight months and shelter operators say they’re seeing more homeless kids.
According to a survey, about a quarter of the increase was related to marijuana, including some who moved hoping to find work in the marijuana industry. But as the industry is still in its infancy, there aren't a lot of jobs to be had.
Shelter operators in Seattle say they haven't seen an increase in homeless youth, but operators like Steele worry eight months from now, the scene may start to look a lot more like Denver.
"It’s hard to work with young people when they’re here for that reason. We have a lot more success working with young people who are ready to take steps to get off the streets."