The benefits of the Nest, according to one resident

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The cube where he sleeps is called “Prosperity,” and I ask if he likes his bunk’s name. He puckers his lips in thought, then through a signature grin that tilts his chin slightly upward and narrows his twinkling eyes, tells me he approves.

“Yeah. Yeah, I like it. It’s a good word.”


Jovonni is difficult not to like. His head nods gently, rhythmically, in conversation, evidence that he’s carefully taking in everything you’re saying, while the corners of his mouth are usually pulled gently upward in a relaxed grin that puts you immediately at ease. His eyes are soft and kind, and they shine with an unhindered enthusiasm many people seem to lose as life takes unexpected twists and turns. It’s likely you’ll leave a conversation with him smiling, whether you set out to smile or not.

He is resident of the Nest, our transitional housing program, where bunks are given names like Prosperity or Greatness or Hope, rather than sanitized, impersonal numbers or letters.

Jovonni has lived there for a few months now as he works to save money and searches for his own place. He’s just graduated from the Street Bean apprenticeship program, where he worked for six months and learned to “throw ‘spro,” as the staff sometimes quips. During that time, he also started working for a local retailer.

I’d asked if he’d tell me about his experience in the Nest, mentioning that it’s the shelter’s one-year anniversary, and though momentarily hesitant, he quickly said (mostly to himself), “Well, yeah. Yeah, if it’s for the Nest. Yeah, come on.”

He lead me to his bunk and we chatted about what he likes about his living situation.

The short-term stability it’s provided has helped him think about and work toward his longer term plans, a benefit of transitional housing we’ve seen time and time again:  it’s quite difficult to manage your future needs when your day-to-day ones are a question mark.

Programs like the Nest help stabilize one part of a young person’s life by ensuring consistency – there’s no worrying about where to eat or sleep – and free him or her to look toward other resources like employment, education, or treatment.

Plus, it creates space to be human, to explore passions, interests, and hobbies – a luxury of the stably housed and gainfully employed.

The Nest has given him the freedom to be more creative and finish mastering the music he’s written when he’s not working. It’s rare to see Jovonni without his headphones on working on his latest music recordings and original writings.

“The Nest provides structure, which motivates you to keep working on your goals,” he offers thoughtfully. “I like that I can relax on the couch, work on my music, watch movies from time to time, get a shower whenever I want.”

He thinks a little more, his grin appearing again as he thinks carefully, and says it’s also taught him about sharing a space with others and caring for it responsibly.

“It’s clean, it’s quiet, a place of relaxation, but also a place to laugh and spend time with other people. It prepares you to live with roommates and teaches you to take care of your own space.”

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He graciously lets me take his photo by his cube but insists that he see it. Upon examination, he says, “Wait one second, I gotta get a hat.” He disappears briefly, taming his hair on the way out, only to reappear a moment later smiling underneath a flat-billed, vintage Chicago Bulls hat.

“Okay, now try this,” he says, planting his feet, crossing his arms and smiling, his chin tilting upward and eyes narrowing, still twinkling, again. I snap the photo, and he gives an approving “Yeah, yeah, that one.”

Jovonni politely asks to be excused if we’re done, and he goes back to his computer to finish mastering another track, doing that trotting thing people do when they’re eager to get back to something important; not quite running, but not quite walking, either.

I realize I’ve unknowingly encroached upon his free time by asking for a quick tour, and I smile knowing that he gave freely of it to humor me.

I smile, too, at the simple fact that now, he has free time to give.


Help us celebrate the Nest’s one-year anniversary this week by donating one or two of the items on its birthday wishlist on Amazon! Make it easy on yourself and put 2709 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121 as the shipping address, and we’ll unpack and sort everything for you!

New HorizonsThe benefits of the Nest, according to one resident
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Hiking Club Trip Report – Summit Lake

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We’ve been taking our young people hiking one day each month as part of our hiking club. This week, we visited Summit Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. Escaping the city has rested the souls of both youth and staff. The opportunity to get away for a day and briefly tune out the stresses of daily life has created space for the kinds of shared experiences that lead to positive relationships.

We arrived at the trailhead and had a brief group meeting to distribute our lunches, get everyone water, and go over some safety tips. Case Manager Brian showed us (pictured below) what to do should we come across any bears.

Once we started up the trail, we twisted and turned up switchbacks as conversations of many types developed, as they tend to do on hikes. Hiking seems to be one of the easiest ways to get to know another person. I suppose barriers break down when you sweat and gasp for air and use the restroom in the wilderness together.

In between sometimes embarrassingly heavy breaths, my group chatted about where we were all from and where we’d like to travel in the US (Colorado was the landslide victor; credit to its outdoorsy, chill vibe).

Though Seattle hasn’t put on its summer face yet, the trail was polka-dotted with wildflowers and left us ooh-ing and aah-ing through sloped meadows.

Spirits remained high as the hike was relatively novice-level, and we arrived at the lake in about an hour. The lake is full of glacial deposits, giving it the characteristically crystal clear blue tint of glacial lakes. We set up a mini camp by the lake and used a Jet Boil to cook some dehydrated camping meals. One young man even thought to bring his hammock, so a few people relaxed to the max, despite the chilliness of the wind coming off the lake.

Brian asks a question before we begin each hike and revisits it once we’ve reached our destination to hear everyone’s answers. This month’s was, “What’s the difference between wilderness and civilization?” Answers ranged from wilderness is beautiful and wild and unmarked by humans to there are no rules out in the wilderness.

Before we left the lake to hike down, Brian brought our attention to thin places, the Celtic notion that there exist places on earth where the spiritual and natural are three feet apart – that is to say, nearer one another than usual – and the group held a minute of complete silence to listen to this thin place speak.

Sharing such a long moment of silence within a group of nearly 15 people was sobering. The wind whispered lowly in the trees as it made its way down to the lake; the clouds played charades over the water, changing to another before you could make out one shape. The silence rested heavily on us, and the moment felt like peace.

It was a great day hike for all of us, full of lively conversations, laughs, and serious moments. Thanks for making days like this possible through your support.

-meredith

  • Brian demonstrates the proper way to react to bears on the trail.

  • Wildflowers surprised us on the way into the lake basin.

    Wildflowers surprised us on the way into the lake basin.

  • Setting up camp and meals by the lake.

    Setting up camp and meals by the lake.

  • The view of the lake as we rounded the top of the trail.

  • The clouds thinned and wisped beautifully across the lake while we ate our lunches.

New HorizonsHiking Club Trip Report – Summit Lake
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Three Differences Between Youth and Adult Homelessness

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Homelessness is traumatic at any age. The streets are unstable, alienating, and insecure for anyone who must navigate a life on them, no matter how young or old.

Still, the streets affect populations differently. In our almost 40 years of work in downtown Seattle, we’ve noticed three major ways that the experiences of  homeless and unstably housed youth (ages 13-24) differ from the experiences of homeless adults: causes of homelessness, lack of social support networks, and the long-term effects of homelessness.

1 | The Root Cause of Youth Homelessness

Multiple factors  contribute to adult homelessness, such as economic instability, job loss, addiction, mental or physical disability. Most youth end up on the streets for one reason: family disruption.

Youth simply would not be on the streets if they were able to be at home safely.

Homeless youth often suffer mental, physical, or sexual abuse at home.  Even if they are not abused, these youth typically face chaotic family situations, often with parents who suffer from addiction or substance abuse.

Some youth choose to leave home to escape the chaos and abuse. Others are placed in foster care. And some are even forced to leave by families that no longer want the responsibility of caring for them.

Foster care is no panacea. More than 30% of youth placed in foster care graduate from the system at age 18 with no money, no job, no safety net, and thus nowhere to go but the streets.

Nationally, more than one in four youth who come out to their parents as LGBT are kicked out of their homes. According to the 2016 Count Us In report, some 27% of homeless youth in Seattle identify as LGBTQ.

The number one cause of youth homelessness is family disruption.

The effects of a failed family system

Many of the youth we meet at New Horizons have suffered some combination of these factors.

One young woman lived in nearly 30 homes after being taken from an abusive home and placed in foster care at age 5. When she aged out of the system at 18, she didn’t have the same training for adulthood a youth who’d grown up in one home with one or two caring parents might have received, yet she had no choice but to face life on her own.

Instead of a collection of valuable experiences gained through education, positive social relationships, group sports, arts programs, or other extracurriculars, as one might expect a “typical” 18-year-old to have, her life was a confusing amalgam of physical instability, psychiatrist visits, medications to manage the trauma of early childhood abuse, anxiety, and alienation.

Unfortunately, her story is not an anomaly. Very few youth are homeless because of their own choosing, victims to family systems that fail them, foster care systems that fail them, and streets that inadvertently become their home.

2 | Homeless Youth Tend to Lack Social Support Networks

None of us succeeds alone. We all need support from families, friends, teachers, and other supportive adults to grow up successfully. Homeless youth typically do not have these supports. They’ve lost not only their families, but also connections to schools, churches, jobs, and other community resources.

Based on our work, we’ve seen that youth require even more social support than an adult exiting homelessness because they are younger and have had less time (and likely, little opportunity) to cultivate emotional assets like self-esteem and perseverance.

Those familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that these skills are a luxury only for those who have first procured more survival-based needs like food, water, and safety, all of which are constantly in question living on the streets.

Addiction and transience increase alienation

Even if they have established support systems, youth may resort to using substances as a survival tool (e.g., to stay awake at night to avoid assault; or conversely, to sleep all day to avoid the stressors of being on the streets) and become addicted. As addiction worsens, it may strain or sever the few relationships a young person has.

Services offered through Drop-In centers can assist youth with basic needs like food, showers, and clothing, while also providing a space for youth to cultivate positive relationships with case managers and volunteers.

Still, with few connections to a home or social network, youth may further the alienation of homelessness by becoming increasingly transient, often traveling to new cities where they have no relational history or context. With no positive relationships to provide love, care, guidance, and emotional safety, youth are much more likely to stay on the streets as they seek other methods of self-soothing.

Drop-In Centers are essential in providing opportunity for youth to form positive relationships.

3 | The Opportunity to Minimize Long-Term Negative Effects of Homelessness

Finally, less time spent on the streets is less time to be permanently negatively affected by them.

If given access to the proper resources to exit the streets, a youth will suffer fewer long-term effects of homelessness than an adult who has been homeless for an extended period of time.

Homeless youth, like young people who leave home for the first time to go to college, are at a stage of their lives where they need the space for self-expression and the structure in which to figure out who they are.

We have observed that, when given structure and support (like that of our transitional housing program, The Nest), youth tend to exit the streets into employment and housing at very high rates.

The Nest gives youth the physical stability they need to focus on other needs, like finding work and permanent housing. Dignifying them with responsibility through chore assignments increases a sense of self-worth and appreciation for the space in which they live, while requiring a small fee for rent teaches them to manage their finances in an environment where it’s safe to fail.

Helping youth exit the streets quickly benefits the larger community

Research has shown that homeless or runaway youth are 50% less likely to have a high school diploma or GED, are prone to weaker health over their lifetime, and are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults than their stably housed peers.

This means that quickly assisting youth off the streets increases their ability to contribute positively to society and decreases long-term welfare costs. For example, transitional housing and care centers like New Horizons have a much lesser impact on tax-payers than necessarily robust juvenile detention centers and prisons.

Generally, when compared to homeless adults, homeless youth are much more likely to become successful and independent when connected to critical resources by minimizing their time on the streets and the streets’ negative, lasting effects on a young person’s life.


This article does not aim to suggest or minimize the necessary work many organizations and individuals are doing to help homeless adults off of the streets. We are proud to be among several organizations in Seattle working to help all individuals suffering from the cruelty of life on the streets.

To read more about youth homelessness, its causes, and potential solutions, we recommend the resources used for the information in this article:

Improving Outcomes for Homeless Youth – Social Issue Report

What Works to End Youth Homelessness – National Network for Youth

 

New HorizonsThree Differences Between Youth and Adult Homelessness
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How Construction Led to Empathy for Youth on the Streets

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If this blog post were a phone call, it would be a hot mess.

I’d be shouting, you’d be confused, and I couldn’t hear anything you said, which would probably make me shout louder, only to make you more confused.

Why, you ask?

There’s construction happening quite literally just outside our front door, and to say our office is loud would be like saying the Empire State Building is “pretty tall” – accurate, but not nearly accurate enough.

The rhythm of my days goes something like this: I’ll settle in at my desk to get something done only to rediscover myself a few seconds later, staring into space, nodding my head rhythmically and obediently to the jackhammer’s song, paralyzed by the constant stimulation of every construction-related noise fathomable.

Even when the jackhammer pauses, the silence is unpredictably accented by bangs, pops, booms, and pows, and it’s enough to make even the most level-headed person develop an eye twitch.

The more this construction has interrupted and frustrated me, the more it’s shifted my mind to the youth that come to New Horizons every day – and become an unexpected source of empathy.

Sometimes people ask us why youth on the streets don’t just go to school or get a job, wondering why youth don’t just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and work harder to improve their current situation.

While many youth are working very hard to put themselves through school, trying to make ends meet at one or two jobs, and doing everything in their power to live as sustainably as they can, for some, taking steps toward sustainability is a lot like what happens to me when I try to be productive amidst the construction racket.

The Impact of Poverty on Cognitive Function

Let me explain by first pointing out a study that demonstrated that the stress of poverty can lower a person’s IQ by as much as 13 points. One author compared the study’s findings to the way a person feels after a night of no sleep, saying, “Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

Poverty takes a significant toll on its victims’ ability to get ahead by making it more difficult to think clearly and make decisions for the long term.

So when a young man still in crucial stages of cognitive development experiences poverty and the brutality of street life on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that he might have a hard time getting a job – his mental resources are completely overloaded and overstimulated, so much so that he may be hardly able to do anything.

Poverty affects youth the way the construction affected me.

Its effects create dozens of daily mental interruptions that prevent youth from meeting longer term needs related to self-actualization and force them to continually devote what few mental resources they have toward basic needs like food, shelter, sleep, and safety.

For example, let’s say this hypothetical young man sits down to apply for a job at a library computer to help him start earning income and eventually afford rent, when BAM – he’s interrupted by the familiar pangs of hunger. He pauses, thinks of a services center where he could get lunch, shakes it off, and tries to focus.

POW – he remembers that place isn’t open on Tuesdays, so he interrupts his application to search for another location where he could get food, only to find that the next meal he can get isn’t for seven more hours.

A little discouraged, he takes a sip of water to soothe his empty stomach and tries to focus again, filling out a couple of lines to an application for a local pizza joint when BOOM – his eyelids grow heavy. Now that he’s settled into a comfortable chair in the air-conditioned library, his body is begging for sleep after several nights in a row of bouncing from shelter to shelter.

Despite his best efforts, he nods off at the computer, only to be awakened by the librarian and gently asked to leave for breaking the Rules of Conduct. He leaves his application unfinished, heads out the door, and by the time he buses to another library, he has only a few minutes to work on the application before it closes.

As he leaves, he feels down on his luck after trying to get ahead during the day, and BANG – the familiar voice he heard in the home he had to leave resounds through his mind: you’re not good enough. You can’t do anything. He spends the rest of his day sitting in a local park until he can get a meal and a spot in a shelter that night, where he hopes he can sleep until the next day comes, hoping it will be different than this one.

These constant interruptions of mind and body are what youth must endure on a daily basis as they seek to exit street life. 

How You Make a Difference

Though some youth may have to experience these interruptions now, your support of Drop-In centers and shelters like New Horizons offers significant support by offering consistent access to services youth need to meet the basic needs poverty takes from them.

Both the Young Adult Emergency Shelter and The Nest are refuges for 34 youth at a time, minimizing the time a young person has to spend answering the question of where and how they’ll sleep safely that night. Even if youth can’t make it to our building before 9PM, they can call to reserve a spot for themselves in shelter so they can spend their day thinking about things other than where they’ll go when the sun goes down.

Youth have access to showers, laundry services, and a hot meal at Drop-In. Perhaps equally as important, youth can relax for a couple hours while they play games or watch a show on our projector, finding some much-needed time to stop thinking altogether and just relax – a luxury of the stably housed and well-fed.

Job training programs offer youth the opportunity to gain employment experience and attend leadership classes where they learn skills like financial literacy and conflict-resolution techniques. Youth develop skills necessary for success in an environment where it’s safe to fail (i.e., to learn).

Every day, with support from you and our community, youth overcome unbelievably difficult obstacles to take steps toward stability, and frequently, they do it graciously and generously.


While my experience with the construction outside the office was maddening, it was a welcome window of empathy into the experience of the men and women who come to New Horizons looking for a break from both the internal and external pressures of the streets.

Now, whenever I’m interrupted by what sounds like the beginning of The Big One, I think I’ll try to forgo the frustration and instead say a little prayer for youth doing their best to meet their needs, especially as they deal with the many frustrations and interruptions of poverty, instability, and homelessness.

And as I do that, I’ll hold on to the hope that, just as the construction outside our office will one day be over, so will the poverty and instability that currently affect the resilient young men and women whose home is, for now, here at New Horizons.

New HorizonsHow Construction Led to Empathy for Youth on the Streets
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