Eleven days after abruptly closing, Thurston County’s only shelter for homeless youth ages 18-24 is set to re-open tomorrow, according to program participants.
Community Youth Services (CYS) operates Rosie’s Place in a building it owns at the corner of Pear St. and Legion Way just east of downtown Olympia. Typically the building offers overnight shelter every day from 9 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Youth arriving last Tue., Jan. 11 were told that the shelter would not open that evening due to staff shortages. Participants in the program told The JOLT that they were informed that all overnight staff had contracted COVID-19.
Youth participants reported that CYS staff gave them two tents and offered the use of their parking lot for camping. Night temperatures have remained above freezing during this period, with lows ranging from 36 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
“All the night staff got COVID,” according to one youth. “They were supposed to re-open last Monday, [Jan. 17] but a staff member told me that the county said it [Rosie’s Place] has to be closed until Saturday, the participant added.
CYS services continued during closure
With all of Rosie's Place staff affected by COVID-19, the county ordered that shelter services be discontinued, according to Derek Harris, CYS's chief executive officer. "During the first five days of the public health-directed closure, we were allowed to provide door services, including handing out food, survival supplies, clothing, etc. to meet our participants’ needs, Harris said, adding, "Due to increased positive COVID tests among our staff, we could no longer provide door services starting on Monday, so during the second five days, we had our street outreach program operating, crisis line open, and we were preparing to be ready to reopen tomorrow."
No services for the past week
“No staff have been in the building all week,” according to a Rosie’s Place participant who has stayed near the building since Jan. 11. The youth added that “the lights are on but nobody’s there.”
This is the fourth time in the past 12 months that Rosie’s Place has closed its overnight shelter, “due to COVID or whatever; the kids are outside, calling me,” according to Danny Burkett, founder of Our Ark Homeless Youth Support Network, a Lacey-based nonprofit organization that does “street outreach” to youth in the same age group served by CYS’s Rosie’s Place.
“There seems to have been no contingency plan, Burkett said. “If there was, the kids wouldn’t have been in tents, he added. He commented that “kids who were at Deschutes Parkway [homeless encampment recently closed by the city of Olympia] got put into hotels. No youth from Rosie’s Place were put into hotels,” according to Burkett.
There were approximately 20 youth staying at Rosie’s Place on Jan. 10. Most are “couch surfing” now, according to youth who spoke with The JOLT. One is camped in a vehicle parked across the street from Rosie’s Place. Three were sleeping in one of the red tents as of last night; a participant reported that the other red tent was destroyed.
According to Burkett, Our Ark arranged for four hotel rooms to house some of the youth for up to four nights.
Because it is hosted in its own building and participants often congregate outside of the building, Rosie’s Place is among the most visible CYS’s 20 programs. Rosie’s Place also provides a variety of other services to homeless youth, including food, hygiene supplies, access to laundry services and referrals for counseling and legal services, with “case managers … on-site to support [them] in reaching any and all of [their] goals,” according to CYS’s website.
No information was available about the closure from Thurston County as of the deadline.
UPDATE: This story was updated at 8 p.m. to include a comment from CYS's CEO.
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