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Shelter opens in Tacoma to help get homeless teens off the streets

TACOMA, Wash. - A shelter in Tacoma was created to help youth who were homeless get off the streets. The Pierce County Hope Center-Serra House opened its doors and services on August 19, 2019.

A public information officer with Tacoma Public Schools said there were about 1,800 students reported as homeless in the 2017-2018 school year. Directors of the Serra House said Pierce County had an immense need for safe places for teens to stay.

“These youth are just not safe in their current situation or circumstance, the traumatic things that have happened to these youth in their history,” said Sid Sandstrom, program director for Serra House. “This is really something that shouldn’t happen. Youth should not be on the streets.”

The shelter for homeless youth was designed to serve teens, ages 13 to 17. Sandstrom said they offer a safe place to sleep, eat and bathe 24/7. He explained teens were allowed to stay at the shelter for up to 150 days, with a commitment to case management after their third consecutive day. School mentoring, job training, and life skills were some of the programs available to youth.

“We don’t try to change the youth, but we just come alongside them and let the youth kind of find out who they are and find their place in this world,” said Sandstrom.

Claire Barnett, director of community development for Pierce County, said the Serra House was an addition to the services provided to youth in the area.

“There’s tons of community providers already and people that have been working with youth for a long time. And so, we just want to come alongside them as an additional place for youth to stay and partner with, said Barnett.

Barnett said Serra House was still expanding. She explained the shelter opened with six beds available, and they hoped to expand to 12 beds by the end of 2019. Barnett said the Serra House also had a drop-in center, where at-risk young adults ages 13 to 25 could stop by for a few hours to get support.

“Get a hot meal, shower, laundry. They can still access same services, so case management, job training, mentorship and all that,” said Barnett.

She explained the drop-in center was available Monday through Friday, from 2-5 p.m., and Friday night from 6-9 p.m.

The Serra House was created by the Coffee Oasis. It’s a faith-based nonprofit that uses proceeds from its coffee packages and café sales to fund programming for homeless and at-risk youth.

Sandstrom said the public showed large support for the shelter and its mission. He mentioned they received donations from the community to stock shelves with free clothes and hygiene products.

“We’re just answering a call. Really, it’s a cry from a community that know youth should be strangers in their own land,” said Sandstrom.

Barnett said the shelter welcomes teens by referral. She also mentioned they have an outreach coordinator to help teens get connected to resources. Barnett said youth of all races, religious beliefs, sexual orientations and disabilities were welcomed. Teens would be wait-listed if the beds were full.

The Serra House is located at 6602 South Alaska St. Referrals would be received by phone at 253-328-6127 or email at pamula.norfleet@thecoffeeoasis.com.

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