UW community launches new effort to combat youth homelessness

UW community launches new effort to combat youth homelessness. (KOMO News) 

SEATTLE -- Just days after King County leaders talked about creating a new task force to tackle the homelessness problem, the University of Washington community launched a new effort Sunday to combat youth homelessness.

The innovative idea, called The Doorway Project, has $1 million in new state funds to help.

It's hoping UW, in partnership with faculty, students and community agencies, will collaborate to develop a new neighborhood hub and navigation center for the homeless.

The campaign includes the idea of a series of pop-up cafes that will provide the homeless and the community a chance to meet each other.

It also offers the homeless food and donated clothes and access to services with the help of youth care.

"We're trying something more innovative," Josephine Ensign, the Doorway Project co-organizer said.

The project will also allow them to collaborate and come up with answers to solve youth homelessness.

"We're not getting the outcome we want in health care or homelessness," Ensign said. "We need to work more collaboratively. (We) need to look at models from other countries that are doing a better job than we are."

Up to 1,500 people under the age of 25 are homeless in King County, and about 500 of them are living in the University District.

Aaron Byrun, 24, has been living on the streets for the past six years.

"I think a lot of people living out here are actually around my age," Byrun said.

Byrun sometimes spends his nights at the ROOTS Young Adult Shelter in the University District.

Homeless advocates say a third of the homeless youth in King County live within a few blocks of UW. A problem that seems to be growing.

"There's a lot of mental illness. There's a lot of addiction problems. There's a lot of financial instability," Byrun said.

Now the $1 million state grant is aimed to tackle the problem in the next two years.

Project organizers are also asking people where to create a permanent cafe space that will welcome everyone, homeless or not.

"To combine public space with service space is part of undoing stigmatization of homelessness," Kristine Scott, ROOTS Young Adult Shelter executive director said.

Byrun said he is hoping for change and for a chance to get off the streets.

"We need people who are open-minded, need to take a risk and try to help us," he said.

The time and place of the next pop-up cafe is yet to be determined, but they hope do it once a quarter and come up with a permanent cafe next fall.

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