Politics & Government

Rosie’s Place at risk of budget ax

OLYMPIA – Rosie’s Place, a downtown drop-in center for street youth, faces closure if Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget cuts are enacted in a special legislative session this month.

The program stands to lose $91,000 in state funding, resulting in the almost immediate closure of the program, said Charles Shelan, executive director of Community Youth Services, which operates Rosie’s Place.

“The fate of this really resides in the next month or so,” he said.

Rosie’s Place opened in 2004 and serves 40 to 45 youth per day at the drop-in center at 711 State Ave. N.E., said Wendy Tanner, chief operating officer of Community Youth Services. The center serves youth from their midteenage years to 21 years old.

For Nathan Baldwin, 17, of Olympia, it’s a place to get food and clothes, hang out with friends over video games and complete his homework. There are Internet-connected computers and people to help find jobs and services.

“This is like everyone’s safe place,” said Baldwin, who has a place to stay for now. Drugs, violence or gang-related matter aren’t allowed at Rosie’s.

Baldwin said he’s about to start studies to become a pharmacist at Columbia Basin University in Moses Lake, where he got a scholarship.

Theadora Martin, 17, has been coming to Rosie’s Place for four years. She finds necessities there: bus passes, socks.

“If I’m hungry and the food bank’s closed, I can come here and get food,” she said. If she’s locked out of the house, she has a place to stay. She sleeps on the couch at her mom’s house, she said.

But Rosie’s is “kind of like the motherhood of downtown, in a sense,” she said.

Shelan said the Rosie’s Place program once depended on what he refers to as a three-legged stool – federal, state and local funding. It was once a program that cost about $370,000 per year. But it lost federal funding last year, shrinking to a program of about $270,000. The program would be reduced to less than $170,000 if state funding is lost, not enough to sustain it, he said.

The center is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Shelan said. With an increase in city funding, the program has been able to extend hours several nights per week, including Monday, Shelan said.

Shelan said so far this year, 194 youth have been referred to emergency and transitional housing. Another 59 were referred to substance abuse treatment and 335 to health clinics.

Gregoire is calling the special session so lawmakers can close a $2 billion budget gap that must be made up before the end of the year.

If Rosie’s Place were to go away, it would be missed in the social service community.

“Rosie’s Place provides a critical resource for street-dependent homeless and at-risk youth,” said Anna Schlecht, housing program manager for the city of Olympia. Because of state law, it’s difficult to place youth in a shelter, she said. “They have to be court-remanded, parents or guardians place them or their parents or guardians have to be notified within 24 hours,” she said.

Even then, there are only 10 beds for them locally.

“In lieu of shelter, drop-in centers are critical resources,” she said. “They offer warmth, food, dry clothing, service referrals.

“They offer people survival.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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