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Credit: Flickr Photo/Curtis Cronn (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/

A cafe to solve youth homelessness? UW is getting innovative

Kim Malcolm talks with University of Washington nursing professor Josephine Ensign about the Doorway Project, the UW's effort to address youth homelessness.

The long-term goal of the project is to open a navigation center and hub in the University District that caters to homeless young people. Ensign is coordinator of the project.

Below are highlights from the interview:

On why traditional homeless shelters can be stigmatizing for young people

“We know the vast majority of young people experiencing homelessness in King County do not identify as being homeless. And they also don’t access any of the homeless youth serving agencies or shelters — even if they know about them.”

On what the Doorway Project is considering building

“It's based on a community café in Auckland, New Zealand that I've done some work with, called the Merge Cafe. It has a breakfast and lunch, community tables, and a pay-it-forward model. We also want to have a studio space above the cafe with different kinds of classes.”

On what homeless youth say they want from a neighborhood hub:

“They want a place where they're not judged or they're not stereotyped. They want a place where they feel welcome, that's youth friendly, that’s trauma informed — recognizing that the design of our healthcare services or our social services need to take into account what happens with people who have had severe trauma.”

On the pushback she’s been getting

“That it won't work. That it's 'pie in the sky.' That young people won't go for it. That business owners will push back. That young people want to be homeless — that's a common misperception.

To her critics she says, “Something's not working, so why don’t we give this a try? Why don't you be at the table to help us, co-design what will be effective.”