Earlier this month, a six-bed overnight shelter for youth between the ages of 13 and 17 opened in Tacoma. The Serra House, operated by nonprofit Coffee Oasis and located at 6602 S. Alaska St., is one of the first 24/7 underage homeless youth shelters licensed by the DSHS in Pierce County.
“It’s unique in that we have all the services right here in the house,” said Claire Barnett, director of community development at Coffee Oasis. She’s referring to the many resources beyond the overnight shelter accommodations provided by the organization, which has a 20-plus year history in Kitsap County with four established locations.
“There’s case management, job training, matching youth with host families who want to open a room in their home. We don’t have to send them across the county to all these different places,” Barnett said. “We have it all right here.”
Youth experiencing homelessness between the ages of 13 and 25 have access to these resources in the Serra House’s downstairs portion, which resembles a recreational room with a pool table, couches, and games. The basement area is open Monday through Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. — after school time — and late on Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. This drop-in center gives youth a safe place to hang out as well as a stable center where hot meals, donated clothes, laundry machines, and counseling services are available.
Job training also connects to Coffee Oasis’s social enterprise model as established in Kitsap County, in which cafés dotted throughout the area sell fair trade coffee and funnel proceeds back into its own youth programs.
“If kids want to work in one of our cafés, that’s an option,” said Barnett. There is currently no café open in Pierce County — that’s the next step, she said, after getting beds filled and all the outreach and youth programs running smoothly in the coming months. If learning to be a barista doesn’t appeal to someone, Barnett said, there are a lot of other options.
“We partner with a lot of businesses in the area that are willing to offer up hundred-hour internships,” she said. “They pick, and then go through a five-week program to prepare them for the internship.”
The Serra House is now accepting referrals for 13- to 17-year-olds in need of a bed at the overnight shelter, where they can stay for 150 days. Barnett said that the organization is currently working with rezoning laws to double the number of beds available in the shelter in order to serve more youth.
If you’re interested in getting involved with Coffee Oasis, learn more at the Sep. 6 information meeting at The Salvation Army. From 12 to 1 p.m.