Cocoon House: Surrounding homeless kids with hope
She may not say much, but Annie packs a powerful message as she watches the world go by outside Firestation Gourmet Deli on Main Street in Mill Creek.
Annie is a mannequin and part of “Take a Closer Look,” which hopes to shine a light on youth homelessness.
The eye-catching initiative is run by Cocoon House, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary of serving at-risk and homeless youth in Snohomish County.
“It’s a way to show awareness of homelessness,” said Firestation Deli owner Mary Duros. “It’s here in Mill Creek.”
And elsewhere in Snohomish County.
Operating the only licensed homes for unaccompanied teens ages 12-17 in the county, Cocoon House is on the front lines in the battle to reduce youth homelessness and return stability to the home.
Sarri Gilman, a marriage and family therapist, founded Cocoon House in 1991 and served as its executive director for 10 years. Cassie Franklin, a member of the Everett City Council, is the current director.
Originally an eight-bed emergency shelter, Cocoon House now has its headquarters in downtown Everett, which includes a 20-bed transitional home for those 12-17. It also has short- and long-term shelters elsewhere in Everett and Monroe.
Cocoon House is known for its street outreach, where up to 30 advocates go where the homeless and at-risk teens are: parks, campgrounds, malls, transit stations and, of course, the streets.
Cocoon House spokesman Julio Cortes said that the nonprofit’s advocates reached more than 1,600 young people last year.
Many of the area’s teen homeless first encounter Cocoon House’s services at its drop-in center near its Everett headquarters. It’s there where they can grab some food, clothing, first aid and hygiene kits, in addition to obtaining referrals for medical, mental health and substance-abuse treatment.
The drop-in center is where you’ll find 26-year-old Nicolas Quijano when he’s not outside the office speaking with kids, visiting schools, food banks and places where young people simply hang out. In a typical week, he said he can encounter 40 to 50 kids who may need help or he’s working to get back on their feet.
“One of first things I tell them is that we don’t work for a school district or an organization that has specific expectations of them,” Quijano said. “My job is to meet them where they are and help them with goals they want to work on.”
He said he encourages them to come by the drop-in center, give him a call or text him.
“I tell them to ask questions. If they don’t like what I say, that can be it. But if they’re interested, we can meet them in a variety of ways.”
Cocoon House will have to call Child Protective Services or the police if a youth reports physical or sexual abuse. If a runaway seeks help, parents have to be notified.
Cocoon House isn’t just about helping homeless youth. It’s also about helping their parents or guardians. “Parents sometimes don’t know their options,” Quijano said.
The nonprofit uses a nationally recognized prevention program of phone consultations, parent education and supportive programming to increase parent or guardian knowledge of and ability to manage their teens.
In addition, Cocoon House offers a 13-hour intensive workshop with teens and parents or guardians to increase communication and trust.
If homeless teens don’t get help from Cocoon House or somewhere else, they can easily become sexually exploited, Cortes said – boys and girls, but especially girls, often as soon as they hit the streets. “She could find that nice person who’s going to help for awhile but ends up grooming her and sexually exploiting her.”
Youth exploitation is increasingly common, especially along the Interstate 5 corridor, Cortes said.
“Pimps and gangs use that corridor to transport youth from city to city and from state to state. It doesn’t exclude cities like Mill Creek, Edmonds and Mukilteo. During the last few years, gangs moved away from dope dealing to make money to pursuing, through social media, vulnerable teens who they groom so they sexually exploit them. It’s a resource they can reuse and get money without having to buy drugs.
“So we want to make contact as soon as possible, and get them off the streets. The longer they’re on the streets, the more susceptible they are to these predators.”
Where the money comes from
Cocoon House gets 40 percent of its funding from state and federal grants. The majority of money comes from fundraising campaigns (including third-party fundraisers), community support and donations.
In September, Rep. Rick Larsen announced a $200,000 federal grant for Cocoon House. Larsen had visited the organization to learn more about its operations and funding needs.
"Cocoon House plays a critical role in Snohomish County by offering teens in need a safe place to seek housing and other resources,” he said. “I am pleased Cocoon House is receiving this federal investment so the organization can continue helping young people secure homes and a strong future."
Cocoon House’s most recent fundraising drive, also announced last week, is called Give for Love. Cortes said the organization is asking 250 people to make a gift of $250 to benefit homeless youth in Snohomish County.
Of course, donations of any amount are appreciated.
“Without community support,” Cortes said, “we wouldn’t be able to operate.”
Cocoon House resources
Main office: 2929 Pine St., Everett, 425-259-5802
Emergency shelters: 2726 Cedar St., Everett; 15203 Plainview Place, Monroe
Drop-in center: 1421 Broadway, 425-259-5802, ext. 117; 425-387-6262 (Spanish)
Phone consultations: 425-317-9898; 425-339-4179 (Spanish)
Tuesday evening support groups: 2929 Pine St., Everett; 215 W. Mukilteo Blvd., Everett (Spanish)
Parenting workshops: 425-317-9898
Safe places (where staff trained to get help for homeless teens): All Sno-Isle Libraries, Snohomish County Boys & Girls Clubs; Everett Transit; YMCAs; two Workforce Development Centers
Take a Closer Look initiative: www.savesnocokids.org
Give for Love campaign: www.cocoonhouse.org/give4love, #GIVE4LOVE