The YMCA Oasis Teen Shelter, a current Pride Foundation grantee, is a shelter for runaway and homeless youth ages 13-17. The Shelter has been in existence since 1997 (formerly known as Skagit Homeless Youth) and is a program of the Skagit Valley Family YMCA. It functions as the only shelter for runaway and homeless youth in Skagit County. They are one of only two shelters for runaway and homeless youth between the Canadian border to Everett, WA. Needless to say, they not only serve Skagit Valley Youth, but youth from all over the state. Justin Krupa, Director of the Oasis Shelter said that in 2011, the Shelter served 91 different youth for 641 bed nights and served over 1,280 warm meals; the most youth in the shelter’s history.
To become more inclusive of LGBTQ youth, Oasis will launch a new afterschool program for LGBTQ youth including drop-in hours exclusive to LGBTQ youth. According to Justin, the new afterschool program will be the only one of its kind in Skagit county. Young people who live further away from the shelter will get bus passes to ensure their attendance. The Shelter is also working with other youth agencies, Gay-Straight Alliances, and Skagit PFLAG to develop the program that best suits the needs of local youth. “This program will be one of expression, of equality, of self betterment, and of a kindred belief that falls under the basic foundation of personal freedom. It is designed to both help LGBTQ youth and to work with youth to avoid falling into the state of homelessness. [For example] Oasis has a sound lab where young people can create music in a variety of ways –live instruments, sing, drum machine, keyboard etc—we have art projects and video equipment too.”
Additionally, Oasis Shelter started working with Youth Suicide Prevention Project’s OUTLoud program to help the Oasis staff understandbullying and subsequent issues that LGBTQ youth face. Heather Carter, the OUTLoud Program Manager, says “I think the best way to look at this is: It takes a village. Justin and the YMCA have seen an unmet need and are willing to do what they can to fill it by providing a much needed support to a population that often goes without that support. The more we all work together the better served these youth are. ”
Justin Krupa says, “Being that we are in a rural community, LGBTQ youth face additional obstacles for reaching the support they may need. Whether it be due to family ‘values’–that always gets me riled up!– or transportation for example, our LGBTQ youth need somewhere, not necessarily within a traditional school environment, to be able to speak freely and express themselves without fear of any kind. This is what the YMCA Oasis Teen Shelter has, and will always provide.”
Despite the energy at the Oasis Shelter to develop this program, it’s not all smooth sailing. “Not all school districts are necessarily always on board with our agenda, “ says Justin, who points out the tricky nature of confidentiality in youth culture, and the consistent need for funding. Still, he reminds us “We are here because for one reason or another, someone else is not…Rarely will we ever know what has happened to the youth we served on any given day. But the very fact that we are here to listen, we are here to care, and we are here to do what it takes to support our youth in the challenges that life presents them, is our success. “
Do you live in or near Skagit Valley and want to get involved? Start with informing yourself about suicide prevention. Attend a FREE training on March 8 or email Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Washington, Uma Rao at firstname.lastname@example.org.