Michael Harthorne
The nearly two-acre Labateyah Youth Home in Crown Hill offers shelter and support for homeless youth. It received a $17,000 grant from the city in April.

Crown Hill home helps homeless youth make positive changes

Mary Dunlap became homeless at 13 and spent much of her teenage years living with friends and family. After graduating from high school, she applied to the University of Washington and was granted a full-ride scholarship.

While she said the four years of tuition are a blessing, the financial aid did not guarantee other basic living expenses. Desiring stability and structure, Dunlap moved into Crown Hill's Labateyah Youth Home in May.

“It’s more like a rent-savings program for youth," Dunlap said. "I like to think of it as a bank almost. They give you a loan in a sense."

Labateyah, located at 9010 13th Ave. N.W., was established in 1992 when founder Bearnie Whitebear noticed that Native American youth were disproportionately represented in the homeless community and often had trouble assimilating into traditional support programs. Whitebear hoped to provide Native youth with a nurturing environment and culturally relevant program.

Labateyah has since evolved to include transitional housing for homeless youth of all ethnicities between the ages of 18 and 22. The dorm-style residence has 25 beds, a full-time cook and numerous support services, such as counseling, access to medical care, assistance with school placement and job training.

To maintain housing residents must work and/or attend school 30 hours a week.

More than a temporary shelter, Labateyah lets its residents stay up to 18 months, enough time to secure a job and steady income. And by pairing housing with life skill classes, Director Jenna Gearhart aims to keep kids off the streets for good.

“The independent life skills group is extremely important because many of the youth were never taught these skills,” Gearhart said. “When you’re dealing with family tragedy and no stable home, learning can be difficult. You’re just trying to survive the moment.”

The transition to self-sufficiency also requires that the residents have a sense of identity. Though all-inclusive, the program offers annual Powwows, Native American traditions and other activities, such as a recent wall-hanging craft project to help instill pride.

“Part of what the program does is it provides a safe environment that nurtures the individuals development,” Gearhart said. “And, part of what’s going to help a person become independent is developing a good sense of themselves.”

Despite Labateyah’s success rate, many residents are used to hitting a brick wall, said Assets Manager Norine Hill. They have difficulty translating goals into reality. Homeless youth cope with trust issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Others lack basic supplies, such as grooming products or appropriate clothing.

“Sometimes learned helplessness is one of the obstacles," Gearhart said. "If the resident's background is very unstable, there can be a problem learning self-determination. And, moving toward achieving a goal sometimes is difficult because of that lack of support.”

In April, Labateyah received a $17,000 grant from the Seattle Neighborhood Matching Fund. The grant will go toward a master site plan to help the nearly two-acre youth home, which is funded primarily by federal and city grants, reach its development goals.

The first group meeting about the plan will be held July 28 and will include staff and neighborhood representatives.

Hill said she hopes to further involve the Ballard community as mentors. With a stagnant economy and limited funds, mentors can help the youth visualize success.

“We try to create other alternatives for them" Hill said. "Say for instance a fitness instructor or someone with good computer skills is willing to come out and teach a computer class. That would give [the residents] alternatives to [substance abuse].”

Gearhart and Hill said they hope to strengthen their bond with the community; establish second-stage housing for residents exiting Labateyah and develop a business enterprise within the youth home to serve as job training and a source of income in the coming years.

“I’ve seen a lot of youth over the years who began to really make positive changes while they were here and really learned how to do well, Gearhart said. "When I asked them what they wanted to do as a career, they’d say. ‘This kind of work.’ Part of it was this was the first time they had someone to look up to.”

Meanwhile, Labateyah will continue to be there for Mary Dunlap, helping her reach her goals.

“No one can predict the future, but every day I do my best," she said. "I work and go to school. I save up. Maybe I’ll be here just till the end of the week, or maybe I’ll be here for another year.”

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