Tacoma-Pierce County government and community groups team up to help homeless youth

TACOMA - It’s been declared an emergency in the city of Seattle. Now Tacoma and Pierce County officials are also trying to do something about the growing number of homeless people on the streets. They recently opened a homeless shelter specifically for young people.

Every night, volunteers put out cots in the Beacon Senior Center of Tacoma, so young people with nowhere else to go have someplace warm and dry to spend the night. Nathaniel Grindstaff says he likes it better than some of the other homeless shelters geared towards adults.

“The Tacoma Rescue Mission, I didn't feel safe at. There's people that didn't really get along with me.”

But Nathaniel says he feels welcomed at the new shelter.

“The first night I’m there I get a fresh pair of clean socks, they tell me where I can shower, because I haven't showered in a week.”

Pierce County officials estimate there are 3000 youth and young adults living on their streets. They admit there haven’t been many resources or programs specifically for them until recently.

“Our community is coming together and saying this is unacceptable,” say LaMont Green.

Today, government officials joined with the Junior League of Tacoma to raise awareness of the issue.

“It’s a scary subject for people to talk about, so we start with the basics of what it is, what it looks like,” says Junior League president Missy Zenczak.

“It takes a village,” adds Green. “Literally it takes the entire community working together, because government cannot do it all alone. There's just not enough funds.”

The Junior League is encouraging its members to not just donate money, but also time. They need mentors to help people like Nathaniel realize they’re not alone.

Nathaniel says it will take time for him to find work and a permanent place to live. But he says at the shelter, he finally feels like people care.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world and when you get that, you get self-esteem, you get hope for your future. And that's what everybody wants.”

Government officials say re-housing a young person costs between four and ten thousand dollars a year. But they say it’s a good investment. Because if that young person doesn’t get help and ends up in the criminal justice system, that costs taxpayers more than 50 thousand dollars a year.