Many of Seattle's homeless youth would rather sleep in doorways, under Interstate 5, or in Westlake Park than stay at an overnight shelter geared toward adults. "The adult shelters are terrible places—they're scary," explains 21-year-old Damien, who says that on his one and only stay in a Seattle adult shelter, a man harassed him and called him "yummy."
"I was scared out of my mind," he says.
After that night more than a year ago, Damien resigned to living on the streets—until another homeless youth told him about YouthCare's James W. Ray Orion Center, located at the foot of Capitol Hill on Denny Way. But the center says it will be closing its overnight young adult shelter this winter, one of only two such shelters in the city, due to lack of funding.
But without shelter, many youth tend to congregate in public places downtown and on Capitol Hill, where business owners and media pundits chastise them for being unsightly and evidence of so-called street disorder. For example, Seattle Times guest columnist Philip W. Eaton wrote last week about his experience moving downtown: "We navigate our way uncomfortably among teenagers who occupy Westlake Park, hanging out with their pit bulls, backpacks and skateboards, lately with their babies, freely smoking their now-legal marijuana."