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Mar 30, 2017

Cowlitz County Street Outreach

Living in cars. Moving from motel to motel with their families while struggling to stay in school. That is what 1 in 20 Cowlitz County youth face daily. According to a report published by the Washington State superintendent’s office in 2016, youth homelessness in Cowlitz County is growing faster than any other county in Washington. Seeking a solution to address this issue, Cowlitz County partners contacted Janus for help in creating a street outreach program. Janus responded quickly and launched a program in October 2016 that addresses the needs of the county while gaining insights into the barriers experienced by unstably housed youth.

The program has really taken off. Walking an average of 4 miles a day, outreach workers have made over 500 contacts with homeless youth on the streets, in the woods and in rural camps. According to Tynna Purtteman, Program Supervisor for Cowlitz Street Youth Services, “many of these youth are couch-surfers, live in cars, motels or camp in tents.” Tynna, a Cowlitz County native, has worked with the juvenile justice and mental health services for 15 years, so she knows how to bridge the gap for youth to help them get services they need. Says Tynna, “in Cowlitz County, we are the only provider working with homeless youth. That has helped us get a lot of community support.”

Along with street outreach, Tynna and her team set up stationary outreach in three high schools. “Over time, we are establishing relationships with homeless youth, connecting them to appropriate services available in the county. We help them with employment, ID cards, clothing, alternative education and keeping on track in school. One of the biggest issues youth under the age of 18 face is that many services are not available to them without a guardian. They can’t get a food box or health insurance,” says Tynna.

Janus plans to expand the scope of the program’s services by opening a new outreach center in Longview, WA this summer. The center will be similar to the Perch—located in downtown Vancouver, WA—offering a safe space for youth while providing them with basic needs such as meals, showers, laundry facilities, internet and phone access. The center’s services help normalize the feeling of being safe indoors with staff who can provide direct linkages to services to meet their unique needs in supporting them from exiting the streets. Janus also hopes to open a resource center where community services will be conveniently available to homeless youth.

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