Crosswalk moves into a neighborhood
Beth McRae, who began volunteering with the Volunteers of America (VOA) of the Inland Northwest Crosswalk Youth Shelter five years ago to provide meals for homeless youth downtown, now raises funds for its programs as director of development since 2020.
About 20 percent of those funds are raised through the community.
Beth, who first used her skills from 25 years working with restaurants to prepare meals for Hope House and Crosswalk, was drawn to work with Crosswalk "to give back to the community because I was homeless for three months as a youth in Spokane before Crosswalk started.
She had a support system to help me through that time, so she completed high school and studied fine arts at Spokane Falls Community College.
Another focus of fundraising is what she called Crosswalk 2.0, a new building planned at 3002 E. Mission near Spokane Community College. By the summer of 2023, VOA will break ground on that building which will offer space to provide resources to help young people accomplish their goals and because of safety concerns downtown.
In the new location, Crosswalk will continue the original emergency, night-by-night shelter and wrap-around services on the first floor and offer longer-stay shelter rooms for youth ages 16 to 20 who are engaged in educational programs at high schools, community colleges or four-year universities.
"It will take youth out of downtown, where they are exposed to too much activity and danger related to sex trafficking, drugs and other problems that are rampant downtown," said Beth.
"It will take them into a neighborhood where they can focus on finishing their education, building healthy relationships, developing life skills for when they exit the program and strengthening their mental and physical health," she continued.
When VOA began talking about building a new shelter, they gathered youth to identify their needs and priorities.
The top priority was to move out of downtown, Beth said.
Because the program serves youth ages 13 to 17, many grow up in Crosswalk.
"Downtown we have no grass. The living, dining and sleeping areas are the same space," she said. "In the new building, the classrooms, sleeping area and dining room will be separate spaces."
The main floor will be a daytime drop-in center. There will be college-style dorms with 20 beds. The second floor will be 16- to 20-year-olds enrolled in education or working.
Next door to the new Crosswalk building, CHAS is building a clinic to serve the youth and low-income people in the neighborhood.
"Many of the youth lack access to health and dental care," said Beth.
VOA raised $14.5 million for the Crosswalk 2.0 building from state, county and city, plus about $2 million from private donations. Ongoing operating costs are covered by grants, government funding and private donations.
Beth said congregations continue to bring meals, even though that slowed during COVID because volunteers couldn't cook at the shelter, currently located at 525 W. Second. Congregations with commercial kitchens have cooked and delivered food.
Five congregations—including the Cathedral of St. John and Garland Church Journey Group—are meal providers. Creston Christian and Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ give funds and provide in-kind services.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints raises funds and gives gifts for Crosswalk and Hope House. St. Peter's Catholic parish has a blanket drive.
Other congregations and churches with women's groups that provide food, funds or in-kind donations are the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Aloysius, St. Francis Of Assisi, St. John Vianney and St. Joseph's Catholic; Country Homes Christian; St. Andrew's Episcopal; Christ, Emmanuel, Holy Cross, St. Luke and St. Mark's Lutheran; Covenant, Manito and Spokane Valley United Methodist; Emmanuel, Hamblen Park and Millwood Presbyterian; Wilbur and Lincoln Heights Community; Unity Spiritual Center and Unity Church of Truth churches.
Since 1985, Crosswalk has become one of two licensed emergency shelters serving runaway and homeless youth in Eastern Washington, Beth said.
Case managers, teachers, health care workers and chemical dependency counselors help the teens end their homelessness and connect them to stabilizing and supportive services.
Crosswalk services include clothing, showers, meals, transportation, job training, job placement, a computer lab, life skills, medical advocacy, GED tutoring, college preparation, behavioral counseling, recreational activities, scholarship opportunities, family reconciliation and access to transitional housing.
Crosswalk also has a Youth Reach Team of three that talk with youth who are living on the streets to build trust and relationships so they will use Crosswalk services.
In 2022, the GED program graduated 19 students.
"Those who earn a GED gain momentum, realizing they are capable of making things happen and changing their lives," Beth said. "One who earned a GED went to an East Coast college this year. Some youth move back with their families. Some past participants work for us."
For older graduates and those who age out of foster care at 18, there is also Youth Transitional Housing. For those 18 to 24, there is an overnight emergency Young Adult Shelter.
For pregnant unhoused youth, VOA offers Alexandria House.
Beth said Crosswalk welcomes gifts for the teens, such as coats, blankets, warm socks, hats, gloves, scarves, hand warmers, gift cards, deodorant, personal hygiene products, men's boxers and briefs, and hygiene wipes.
"The Crosswalk Youth Shelter has served 13,166 individuals since January 1998, when we started electronically collecting data," she said.
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