This week we had the opportunity to visit our regional office in Walla Walla. We were completely blown away by the incredible staff and amazing community that supports the programs that operate in our regional office!
Catholic Charities Walla Walla has been part of the community since 1944, but over the last 10 years, Director Tim Meliah has tirelessly worked with multiple civic collaborators to tackle what seemed to be an invisible issue: youth homelessness. Many of the rural youth that are experiencing homelessness can often go unseen. The people of Walla Walla saw the need to address the underlying causes of youth homelessness, such as abuse and poor physical and mental health conditions, and took action for the teens of their community.
Catholic Charities Walla Walla worked with every community partner available to find state and federal funds to support rural communities, specifically the Anchor Community Initiative. Eventually after a decade of dedication, research, and lots of hard work, the LOFT was born.
The LOFT is a HOPE Center low barrier, temporary shelter for youth experiencing homelessness. It is located at the Hub (which shares a location with Blue Mountain Action Council) near Lincoln High School. All youth between the ages of 12-17 are welcome, as long as they do not have a history of sexual offense or violence.
The LOFT is a safe place for youth to stay for up to 30 days that provides many resources on site. Youth are required to participate in education placement, such as high school or alternative school curriculum. Other wraparound resources include case management, counseling, employment search assistance, hygiene, legal and community services, medical and dental appointments, and recreational activities.
The LOFT also includes free WiFi, which may seem like a small thing to some and one we smile about and say “oh teenagers and their phones!” But to a youth experiencing homelessness, a cellphone is like a security blanket, a way to feel safe and connected to the people in their life that still care about them.
The goal of the LOFT is to find safe and stable housing in a positive environment. The youth come from all walks of life. Some come in off the street, some are fleeing abusive situations with families or relationships, and some are dependents of the state and awaiting foster placement. But more than just seeking a place to stay, the teens at the LOFT have the staff that are building real relationships with them and showing them how much they care. Not just how much Catholic Charities cares, but how the entire community of Walla Walla cares.