Last week, The Chronicle of Social Change introduced “Positive Youth Justice: Curbing Crime, Building Assets.” It is a series that imagines an entire continuum of juvenile justice services built on the positive youth development framework. We accomplish the “creation” of that continuum by profiling successful programs and organizations all over the country.
Today, we begin with a program in Washington that aims to redirect youth who are, statistically speaking, hurtling towards involvement with law enforcement and the courts.
Intro / Part One /
The first step in a continuum of positive youth justice should aim to engage young people before they are ever arrested. Every weekday, in Olympia, Washington’s capital, the staff and volunteers at Rosie’s Place attempt to do just that.
The Olympia-based drop-in center has aligned its hours and its available services to reach youth who are at high risk of involvement with the justice system: older youth who are homeless and/or have run away, struggle with drugs, or have left the school system.
“We try to come at the youth with high expectations of who they are as human beings, even though it can be exhausting,” said the center’s director, Keylee Marineau.
Staff and Structure
The nonprofit is led by CEO Charles Shelan, Director of Program Services Derek Harris, and Clinical Director Scott Hanauer.
The Rosie’s Place staff under Marineau includes three full-time staff and an AmeriCorps volunteer. Eleven part-time volunteers serve lunch during the early drop-in session; facilitate group activities and arts projects; and assist with upkeep of Cindy’s Closet, an outlet for donated clothes located in Rosie’s Place.
Rosie’s is located on the second floor of the Brighter Futures Youth Center, a building owned by CYS that houses several of its other programs.
How it Works
Every weekday with the exception of Thursday, the drop-in center opens its doors during the hours that most teens and young adults are either in school or at work:
8:30-Noon: Drop-in hours
1pm-2:30pm: Individual services
2:30-4:30pm: Drop-in hours
On Thursday, the center operates from 4pm until 8pm.
Rosie’s Place, which was established in 2005, prides itself on having low-barrier access. An attendee must provide his or her initials and birth year to enter the center, but that is about it. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 24 is welcome to visit the drop-in center.
There are no conditions for attendance. The center has games, computers and recreational space, all of which attendees are welcome to take advantage of. At 11am, the center serves a hot lunch.
The center can also provide overnight shelter to six people per night, a limited capacity but one that it lacked entirely in its old building.
The relaxed environment enables staff to connect with young people.
“Typically staff check in with them, show them around, ask what brings you in today, it’s really about meeting the youth where they’re at,” Marineau said. “Then we set a time to do an intake with a case manager, and we hook them up with whatever they’re needing. This is a long-term relationship and we really focus on that.”
Staff connect with youth by communicating openly and honestly, and by engaging them in meaningful activities such as field trips, outreach, clubs and workshops. Topics addressed in clubs and workshops range from healthy relationships to Q&A sessions with plainclothes law enforcement to cooking.
“From the moment there’s a connection, that’s when we get case management going, asking ‘what are your goals, what do you need, what have you tried or haven’t tried,’” Marineau said. “It’s impossible to generalize about the process, because it depends on the individual, but it’s about empowered problem-solving and building a trusting, meaningful relationship with this person. It’s a conscientious process.”
Rosie’s Place uses a trauma-informed approach Marineau described as not just addressing behaviors – which are symptoms of, or reactions to, trauma and stress – but by focusing on harm reduction and building a foundation with the youth so he or she understands that they can “mess up” and come back again and again.
It means understanding that each young person who walks through the door has experienced trauma – and the trauma may be ongoing. As a result, Martineau said, the youth can be hyper-vigilant; they may not know how to deal with the emotional effects of trauma once they get off the street and are no longer in survival mode.
This can lead them to engage in behaviors that get them kicked out of transitional housing and back on the street. A trauma-informed approach anticipates that cycle.
“We believe you’re the expert on your own experience,” Marineau said. “And we’re going to be there every time, with the same level of accountability and care.”
Most organized programs for children and youth can be considered “delinquency prevention.” Filling a youth’s life with supportive mentors, after-school programs and sports increases the chances that he or she will not commit delinquent acts.
Rosie’s Place falls more in the category of early intervention. All of their clientele are statistically at high risk of involvement with law enforcement.
Attendees under the age of 18 are already guilty of youthful crimes called status offense violations if they have run away from home or are chronically truant from school. And Rosie’s Place allows youth in who are high on drugs, as long as they adhere to the rules of behavior that are developed and regularly reviewed by the staff and youth.
Here is a sample of research about the extent to which homelessness and truancy beget criminal records:
- A 2002 study in International Pediatrics found that 75 percent of homeless youth reported “involvement in illegal activities including theft, drug dealing and assault.”
- Two studies (one in 2003 and another in 1997) found that between 69 percent and 71 percent of homeless youth met the criteria for an alcohol or illicit drug abuse disorder.
- The Rochester Youth Study of 2007 found that youth who self-reported chronic truancy were 12 times more likely than a school-going youth to report committing a serious assault and 21 times more likely to report committing a property crime.
As a standalone program, Rosie’s Place would be a critical asset in the effort to steer youths and young adults away from potential justice system involvement.
Rosie’s Place is more valuable than that because of its connection to a provider with the broad capacity to integrate services and assistance to any at-risk youth.
Community Youth Services is a commodity any community might envy. It has been led since 1979 by CEO Charles Shelan (though he will retire in July), operates on consistent annual funding, and has several million stored in assets.
CYS operates 21 different programs, all aimed at youth and families in crisis. Among the CYS services: a crisis shelter, family preservation, foster care, juvenile diversion, street outreach and suicide prevention.
In that context, Rosie’s Place acts as an entry point to youth development and other necessary services – in fact, Rosie’s Place sees more referrals than the other CYS programs. It is located directly above a GED-reengagement school serving youth ages 15-21.
“We get lots and lots of referrals. Someone might be asking for housing assistance, but they really aren’t ready for that. They might have substance abuse or mental health issues, so we try to get them stabilized on the ground first,” Marineau said.
About 1,400 youths and young adults checked into Rosie’s Place in 2013; that number held steady in 2014.
Case managers track outcomes on a one-on-one basis, looking at which education or job services the youths engage with as well as what referrals are provided. Rosie’s is moving toward tracking contacts with participants in order to meet federal reporting requirements.
But as the state considers moving CYS’ state funding out of the Children’s Administration and into the Department of Commerce, Marineau expects reporting requirements to shift.
“A lot of times we’re looking at the wrong things. A youth might come into the center three times in a month, and we see that as a success, but they didn’t complete a particular program, so it’s hard to account for that from the purchaser’s perspective,” Marineau said.
Another Look: The Spot, Denver
In 1988, Denver nonprofit Urban Peak was founded to serve as the primary conduit and connector of services to youth living on the city’s streets.
In the early 2000s, Urban Peak CEO Roxane White went looking for a better front door to the organization’s services. In February of 2002, she merged Urban Peak with The Spot, a hip-hop oriented program for at-risk youth.
The Spot became a drop-in center for Urban Peak, which has since expanded its reach to include homeless youth in Colorado Springs. Among The Spot’s attractive features to street youth: a free laundry service; daily breakfast and a weekly Tuesday barbecue; and a medical clinic open four days a week.
Correction: The Chronicle reported that Rosie’s Place can offer shelter to six people per night, but the facility can actually house up to 12 people — and as many as 15 people on cold winter nights.
John Kelly is editor of The Chronicle of Social Change. Christie Renick also contributed to this story.
This series was made possible through the support of the Sierra Health Foundation, which has partnered with the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation to launch the Positive Youth Justice Initiative to reform the juvenile justice system in four California counties.