Q13 FOX Season of Giving

Formerly homelessness man now a resource for non-profit benefiting from Pearl Jam’s funds

SEATTLE - At his lowest moments, Roel Williams sought refuge at Seattle’s waterfront.

“I see the water, I see the Sound," Williams said. "I don't know, it really uplifted me."

Some nights while homeless, Williams found a spot on a staircase overlooking the water.

“I would hunker down,” Williams said.

Williams' path to homelessness started at the age of 7 when he lost his mom to cancer - his only support in life was gone. A family that knew his mom took him in, but eventually, at the age of 9, Williams went into the foster care system.

“Sometimes life really beats you up, and when you don't have a support system to help you back up, it's really easy to stay down,” Williams said.

Between seven schools and 14 different foster families, Williams ended up living on the streets many nights.

“I just remember being robbed at gun point for the stuff I didn't have in the first place,” Williams said.

Williams said that happened at the age of 14. He says things started turning around for him a couple of years later because of one specific foster family.

It was an elderly couple who he says no longer is alive, but gave him the guidance and the love he needed.

“They really showed me how to respect people, how to get good grades that really changed me as a person,” Williams said.

He says resources at the YMCA also began to shape him

Now he's 27 years-old, not only working in sales but also consulting for the non profit A Way Home Washington.

“If I had a support system like this, I would have not gone as low as I went,” A Way Home executive director Jim Theofelis said.

Theofelis says in 2017, A Way Home Washington helped 615 homeless youths off the streets in 100 days.

“We know we have homeless in every county in the state, but we only have services in 50 perecent of those counties,” Theofelis said.

Founded in 2016, the organization is now on a mission to eradicate youth homelessness by 2022 and Pearl Jam believes in their work.

“I think they saw A Way Home Washington being a leader in this movement, particularly in this state,” Theofelis said.

The group is receiving funds from Pearl Jam after the iconic band decided to raise money for homelessness. Back in August, Peal Jam held their "Home Shows," raising millions of dollars for the cause.

A Way Home Washington says they will take the funds donated by Pearl Jam and deliver results.

“It's to build a statewide system that's data-informed, performance-based and holds equity as a value,” Theofelis said.

They just launched their Anchor Communities Initiative, which will create a network of resources in four communities across Washington, including Pierce County.

“We have to do more than putting young people in a shelter bed,” Theofelis said.

Theofelis says the state needs to do a better job of providing mental health and chemical dependency treatment. He says jobs and opportunities also have to come with the package.

His organization is not a direct provider to homeless youth. Instead, they are behind creating the system, a statewide network to help youth and young adults.

The non-profit will draw upon experiences from people who have experienced homelessness, with the goal to make more success stories.

“I think about where I am right now, who I am talking to and who I will be helping out by sharing this story,” Williams said.

A Way Home Washington says they do not take local or state funds. Instead, it’s private and philanthropic donations that keep them running.

They will start off building a network of resources in four different communities, including Pierce County.

If the project goes well, they will seek more funding to build up more communities across the state, so that in 3 to 5 years they would have that statewide network they are hoping for.