EVERETT — Friday afternoon, Nico Quijano, Sergio Carrillo and Elysa Hovard walked along North Broadway in Everett, looking for young people who needed help.
The three work for the Street Outreach Program of Cocoon House, the Everett nonprofit that serves homeless and at-risk youth.
Quijano approached a young man who was probably in his late teens. They exchanged a few words, and the youth accepted a small information card.
The first question they pose is always, “Have you heard of Cocoon House?” Quijano said.
He asks almost anyone who looks to be in their teens or early 20s, regardless of appearance.
“I don’t want to possibly miss somebody just because of my perceptions of what a homeless person looks like,” Quijano said.
Cocoon House does more than just provide kids with a place to sleep, and a teenager who doesn’t need those services might know of someone who does.
Quijano and Carrillo are both “advocates,” whose work combines case management, regular meetings in schools and venturing across Snohomish County looking for young people who need help.
Their work is mostly about raising awareness and building trust with local youth, so they know where to go if they need help, said Hovard, the Street Outreach Program manager.
That outreach is now threatened, however. In October, a $200,000 three-year federal Runaway and Homeless Youth grant that supported the Street Outreach Program was not renewed.
The government, facing budget cuts, made the grant application competitive at the national level rather than the regional level, as in past funding cycles, said Cassie Franklin, CEO of Cocoon House.
The grant made up 50 percent of the outreach program’s budget, she said.
“We’ll reapply,” Franklin said, but the nonprofit has had to shift money to keep the program funded while it pursues more private donations and seeks other sources of funding.
“If we’re not out there actively engaging with youth, these youth will be our chronically homeless adults,” she said.
The advocates target “hot spots” where youth are known to gather, ranging from storefronts and libraries to skate parks, the backs of schools and encampments in the woods.
Broadway is a new area of focus, Hovard said.
“There has been an increase in sex trafficking on Broadway, so we’re going to try and reach out to girls,” Hovard said.
Cocoon House offers a number of services for youth. The Street Outreach Program is run out of the agency’s “U-Turn” drop-in center at 1421 Broadway, which is open every day from 2 to 7 p.m. The nonprofit also runs two 24-hour emergency shelters with a total of 14 beds, a transitional housing facility with 20 beds and a maternity group home with room for five young mothers with babies.
About 48 percent of the $3.2 million Cocoon House budget is grant money from all levels of government. The rest is from the private sector.
The bulk of the nonprofit’s funding pays for staff, the equivalent of 49 full-time employees, who manage cases for up to 300 youths annually and provide emergency and transitional housing to 250 teens per year.
The Street Outreach Program has a potentially larger impact on youth homelessness than other programs because it can reach and provide services to youth before they become homeless and get accustomed to living on the street.
Teens on the street can be approached by drug dealers or sexual predators within hours of becoming homeless, Franklin said, so it’s critical to get to them as soon as possible.
In Clark Park in north Everett, where homeless youth and adults and known to congregate, nine people ranging in age from 14 to 21 were hanging out Friday afternoon.
A 14-year-old boy called out to Quijano when they arrived. He’s a regular at the drop-in center, Hovard said.
Quijano and Carrillo handed out water and snacks to the youths in the park.
Also in the park was Dallas Slagle, 21, hanging out with his girlfriend.
Slagle, a former Cocoon House client, told Quijano and Carrillo that he’s now been sober for five months, looking for work and living in a transitional home.
“I have my own bed, and I haven’t had my own bed for two years, so that’s a plus,” Slagle said.
Seeing a former client turn his life around is always heartening, Carrillo said, especially if he manages to graduate from high school.
“Man, that’s a great success story … let alone if they go to college,” Carrillo said.
Back at the drop-in center, seven teens waited to be let in when it opened at 2 p.m.
The teens signed in. One immediately went to start loading a movie on Netflix in the game room. The center’s coordinator, Evan Bates, set out snacks and milk. A girl flopped on the couch and played a game on her phone.
Then another youth showed up, brought by a staffer from a school.
The 17-year-old boy is turning 18 next month, and his parents were planning to kick him out, Hovard said. He’d never been there before.
Carrillo gave the newcomer a quick rundown of services available and the rules: sign in here, food over there, shower in the back, computer lab upstairs, no drugs, no weapons. Before long, the boy had joined another teen in front of the TV.
As the day went on, some kids left and more came. The drop-in center usually sees about 30 kids per month, Hovard said, some of whom first heard about Cocoon House from the Street Outreach advocates.
“We’re the fingertips of the agency,” she said.
Cocoon House’s “U-Turn” drop-in site is at 1421 Broadway and is open daily from 2 to 7 p.m.
The organization is also part of the National Safe Place program. Teens in trouble can call or text 425-877-5171, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone from Cocoon House will come and get them at anytime day or night.
Cocoon House also partners with Everett Transit, so teens can tell any city bus driver they need help and agency staff will arrange to meet the youth.
For more information, visit cocoonhouse.org.