Yakima nonprofit plans to build homeless shelter for minors

Shelter would be built at vacant lot near East Chestnut and South Fair avenues

YAKIMA, Wash. — Local nonprofit Rod’s House has applied for a permit to build a permanent emergency shelter capable of housing young people ages 13 to 24 at a vacant lot near East Chestnut and South Fair avenues.

“Our highest priority is to make sure that every young person has a safe home and a safe night’s rest,” said Mark James, executive director of Rod’s House.

James said there are not enough beds dedicated to young adults ages 18 to 24 in Yakima County and none of the local shelters will accept unaccompanied minors because they don’t have the necessary permits under state law.

One out of every 10 people living unsheltered last year in Yakima County were under the age of 25, according to the 2020 Yakima County Point-in-Time report on homelessness. Additionally, James said a 2016 survey found more than 2,600 students attending schools in the county were experiencing homelessness.

“We want to be able to meet this need because when  young people are on the street and living on their own, they’re vulnerable,” James said.

According to Rod’s House, the number of homeless youth has quadrupled since the nonprofit opened its doors 11 years ago. In that time, they’ve provided services to more than 1,700 different young people.

“This has been a prevailing issue for decades,” James said. “It was one of the reasons why Rod’s House was founded.”

Rod’s House runs a daytime youth resource center and an emergency home in Sunnyside for young adults ages 18 to 24. The nonprofit also contracts with Motel 6 to provide a temporary emergency shelter in Yakima from November to March.

The proposed shelter would be located at 1017 E. Chestnut Ave. and have a total of 18 beds, with minors and young adults separated into wings. James said they chose that location because of its proximity to the highway, their resource center, the police station, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services and other resources.

Eight beds would be set aside for youth ages 13 to 17 and 10 would be allocated for young adults ages 18 to 24.  Guests would have to go through a referral and intake process and could stay up to 30 days.

That’ll include a common living area, kitchen that they’re free to use, showers, bathrooms,” James said. “Each person will have their own room as well.” 

The shelter would also have 24/7 on-site residential staff, daytime case managers, behavioral health specialists, substance abuse recovery support, education and employment training, life skills training and access to health services.

“Yakima Neighborhood Health Services has offered to partner with us to provide some non-emergency medical care like checkups and prescription management,” James said.

James said per state law, if they’re made aware of the fact that one of their guests is a runaway, they will have to report that information. However, he said even if those kids can’t stay very long, at least they have somewhere to go that’s safe and warm.

“If there’s an opportunity for them to navigate family reunification — or whatever the situation may be — they still have a place to sleep at night,” James said. “We are going to be hyper focused on making sure that while they’re with us, that we can move them into whatever the next phase is going to be.”

Project construction costs are estimated at over $6 million dollars, which will be funded mostly through the Housing Trust Fund. However, James said they may also need help from the community to fund day-to-day operations.

“Later on, we’re going to be pursuing our community and approaching them and asking them to get involved,” James said.

Rod’s House began the process of submitting their land use permit application Oct. 10 and completed the initial process Nov. 4. The City of Yakima Planning Commission sent out a public notice Nov. 17 announcing the proposal and a public hearing.

Yakima residents wanting to provide input on the project must submit written comments by Dec. 7, which will then be read at the virtual public hearing  at 9 a.m. on Jan. 27 via Zoom.

“Right now, the most important thing that the community can do is just submit their comments to the city and let them know what they think,” James said. “We could really use the support.”

Comments can be submitted by emailing ask.planning@yakimawa.gov. Questions can be directed to Trevor Martin, senior planner with the City of Yakima.

James said if the permit application is approved, they plan to start construction next summer and hope to open the shelter in 2023.

More information about the emergency youth center project can be found here.

*This article has been update to correct the funding source for the project and the contact information for submitting public comments.

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