Life after Street Links - The effects are already being felt

Elaine Simons is concerned.

The founder and executive director of Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) says she is seeing up to a dozen more homeless youth dropping in at PSKS headquarters these days. They're asking for food and socks, Simons said.

Simons figures that's because the nightly Street Links van, operated by Seattle Children's Home, temporarily suspended service March 12.

"I'm not a drop-in center," Simons said of her offices at 1814 Summit Avenue. "But we can't just close the door to them. It's not their fault. If it looks like a drop-in center, they're going to drop in."

PSKS is a well-regarded homeless youth advocacy organization. Services include employment counseling and resource networking. Part of the non-profit's mission is to change public perceptions of the homeless.

The Street Links van that departed its Queen Anne facility each night did so on a very different mission. Under the auspices of Greg McCormack, who ran the van for nearly a decade, sandwiches, drinks, clothing, hygiene kits, transportation to shelters and advice (if asked for) were dispensed to homeless youth who gathered at 9 p.m. each night next to the post office on Broadway. McCormack has characterized these street youths not as runaways but "throw-aways."

Earlier this month Seattle Children's Home, citing its core mission, said the van will focus on providing mental health care for street youth up to 21 years of age. To do that, Seattle Children's Home has partnered with YouthCare Inc. Debra Boyer, YouthCare associate director, said a refurbished Street Links van will take to the streets once a mental health expert is on board. She expects that to happen before the end of April.

Plans call for the van - which Boyer said will still dispense food, clothing and hygiene kits - to operate with earlier hours and to focus on a younger segment of the street population. Street Links serviced street youth and young adults and didn't ask for identification.

"The program will not look the same," Boyer said. "We will not be seven nights a week, but six nights. The focus of the program is on youth and to get kids off the street." Boyer said the van will be on Capitol Hill earlier in the evening and won't act as a drop-in center. YouthCare volunteers, she said, will fan out in the street community.

For those over 21 who approach the van, referrals will be provided, Boyer noted. And, if those too old to qualify are hungry, they will be given something to eat, she said.

Still, "I recognize some people are upset," Boyer said. "This presents a hole" in the support network.

Meanwhile, the Street Links van remains in the Seattle Children's Home parking lot.

At PSKS, several young adults were dubious about the new arrangement.

"I got my first sweater and socks there (Street Links)," a man in his mid-20s who goes by the name of Grimace said.

The burley, tattooed Grimace, who said he has been homeless since 11 - his parents died of heroin overdoses, he added, matter of factly - described himself as bi-polar. "No one wanted me unless I was in trouble," he said.

"I miss the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," he added. "A lot of us depend on Street Links."

Jarrod, 25, said he has been homeless since he was 12. Abused as a child, he was shuttled between foster homes before opting for the streets. He's bright and quick with a joke. He said he sleeps in the gutter at night.

"It's tough out there," Jarrod said, lamenting the change in the Street Links program. He noted that he's twice had pneumonia: Now and then, "I've had to lift a blanket from someone's car before. I've returned it in the morning if the car's still there."

"Street Links provided a safe place to meet kids where they're at," PSKS executive director Simons said. "Greg (McCormack) and his volunteers did a great job."

Simons believes the increased drop-in traffic at her facility underscores the meager resources available for the Hill's homeless youth, especially with the closing of the Capitol Hill Youth Center more than two years ago.

That's what's got Simons worried.

And that's why she's keeping a wary eye on the parked Street Links van.

"If the van doesn't come back then the community needs to come together to add a drop-in center," she said.

Mike Dillon is the publisher of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1283.

[[In-content Ad]]