January 22, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 4


Orion Center’s youth shelter back from the brink thanks to some influential friends

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

The Orion Center is a Seattle youth shelter located on Yale Avenue near Denny Way.

Photo by Wes Sauer / Contributing Photographer

Brandon plays pool at the Orion Center. The youth shelter is functioning again thanks to a number of public and private supporters who helped raise money to keep the shelter open.

Photo by Wes Sauer / Contributing Photographer

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In November, the Orion Center reduced its overnight shelter capacity from 20 to 15 with the warning that by February the sleeping mats spread out on the floor could disappear altogether. YouthCare, which operates the shelter, held a lottery to determine which of the 20 young adults would be allowed to continue staying overnight in the drop-in center.

A financial crunch caused the cutbacks. In 2013, a number of the organization’s private and federal funding sources expired or were not renewed, leaving YouthCare with a deficit of $1.2 million.

After YouthCare announced the possible closure of its shelter program, a number of private and public supporters rallied behind the organization, helping to raise the money needed to get the shelter open.

Now, Orion Center is again housing 20 teens five days a week and 15 over the weekend.

The 20 shelter spaces account for a quarter of the beds in King County reserved for homeless young adults. ROOTS Young Adult Shelter houses 45 adults each night in the University District, and Friends of Youth houses 15 in Redmond.

Before 2014, a private grant paid for most of the $350,000 it costs YouthCare to operate the shelter each year. YouthCare has an annual budget of $10.2 million. Government contracts comprise 65 percent and the rest is funded by grants and individual donations.

The city of Seattle and King County budgeted a combined $250,000 for the Orion Center shelter. The Stranger hosted a competitive fundraising campaign before Christmas, collecting donations from the fans of rapper Macklemore and rock band Pearl Jam. Together, the fans raised $109,535 and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Pearl Jam agreed to donate an additional $100,000 to the organization.

Sen. Patty Murray is continuing the trend, with a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encouraging the organization to renew a $200,000 grant that YouthCare applied for in early January. Murray wrote the letter to secure funding for the agency, because it had already lost three federal grants totaling $1 million in 2013.

YouthCare has received grants from the Department of Health and Human Services since 1974. The grant pays for two of YouthCare’s transitional housing programs for teens aged 15 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 21.

“We’re grateful for her support and appreciate that she’s paying attention to what’s happening in Seattle with homeless young people,” said Liz Trautman, spokesperson for YouthCare.



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