Cocoon House making bigger place for county’s street teens
EVERETT - They come not always fed, not always showered and not always feeling loved.
Teens living on the streets throughout Snohomish County have a place to go at Cocoon House’s U-Turn Center at 1601 Broadway, but things are getting crowded there.
The nonprofit is quickly working to open a much bigger site about a block away that will provide many amenities for homeless teens the current site can’t hold.
The new center set to open this fall at 1421 Broadway can hold more than 50 teens at a time. The new center will offer showers, laundry facilities, a kitchen and on-site counselors in the building – all things the old space couldn’t fit.
The nonprofit is known for housing teens in crisis at shelters throughout Snohomish County. The U-Turn program is a second arm that lets people ages 13 to 20 drop in to a safe space. The U-Turn program will be sited inside the outreach center when it fully opens in the fall.
Cocoon House obtained a new two-story building in June for $286,000. A city grant and grants from three nonprofit groups helped secure the deal. Cocoon House already moved its counselors to the new site, freeing up space for more beds at its shelter complex near Pacific Avenue.
Outreach director Lorretta Morris can hardly contain her excitement as she gave the Tribune a tour of the new site.
The added amenities at the expanded site will put Cocoon House on par with drop-in centers in Seattle and Portland, Morris said. The nonprofit has been looking for a bigger space for years now, Morris said.
The kitchen gives teens a meal but also the ability to practice cooking. The laundry room gives them basic life skills in how to wash their clothes, Morris said.
Teens who leave home early or come from disruptive homes may not be taught these skills by adults, Morris said, and it is probable they have nowhere to wash their clothes. Cocoon House employees have seen teens washing their clothes in the sink at the old center, Morris said.
Many of the teens who come have gang affiliations, were abused as children or left home early. One of the key tenets of the U-Turn program is to teach teens life skills to become independent, functional adults.
Cocoon House started its U-Turn program in 1995; the group also sends employees to walk city streets all over the county searching for homeless teens who could benefit from the center.
The number of visitors grew from 190 teens in 2005-2006 when U-Turn opened to 426 teens last year, according to Cocoon House figures.
A lot of teens come by word of mouth, Morris said. Many staff members are former teens off the streets themselves, Morris said.
There are teens who walk in avoiding eye contact with employees on the first visit who eventually open up about childhood abuses, Morris said.
Case workers are given teens to mentor during the teens’ time in the program.
U-Turn is open 2 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. When the new outreach center opens this fall, the hours will expand to Saturdays and Sundays 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Morris said.
Resources to combat street issues
The new drop-in center aims to be a one-stop resource for teens.
The nonprofit coalesced an agreement with Catholic Community Services to have a drug and alcohol counselor on-site since June. So far, the counselor’s work encouraged 25 teens to get referrals into rehabilitation services; the center knows five teens are actively going through rehabilitation.
Bart Wheaton, the counselor, was once a street kid himself.
Every Tuesday at U-Turn starting at 5 p.m., he hosts an open recovery group session for teens. Sometimes a handful come, sometimes he gets groups as large as 15 teens. Sometimes they walk in and tell him point-blank “I have a problem with drugs.”
Even if they do know where a rehabilitation center is, they need encouragement.
“Kids aren’t going to stroll right into an inpatient facility and say ‘I need help’,” Wheaton said.
Cocoon House also brought in the Teen Parent Advocate program and its manager, Courtney Orr, from the now-closed Deaconess Children’s Services, which closed down last fall. The program works on teaching teen parents how to raise their child.
The walls are off-white and the carpet is green right now, but the center has a lot of renovating to do before it opens up to teens. A $60,000 city grant is pending to fund the renovations.
“We’re going to have ethnicity on the walls – every color,” Morris said, waving her hand at what will become a new teen lounge room apt to fit 25 kids.