This story originally appeared in the December 20 edition of Hawk Mail. To subscribe to Hawk Mail, click here.
With an estimated 35,000 homeless youth scattered across the state of Washington — a number that's enough to fill more than half of the seats inside Seattle's CenturyLink Field — Paul Allen and the Seahawks are taking steps toward finding long-term solutions to the homeless crisis.
This month, the club and its owner have joined forces with Cocoon House, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization serving homeless, at-risk, and disconnected youth. Together, the group hopes to break the cycle of homelessness through outreach, housing, and prevention, and throughout December, Allen will match every dollar donated to Cocoon House, with the fundraising effort culminating during Seattle's Week 16 home game against the Arizona Cardinals.
In several homeless cases, that aforementioned cycle of homelessness starts at a young age. Research shows 50 percent of chronically homeless adults experienced homelessness as a youth. When coupled with the dropping temperatures at this time of year, those type of facts influenced Allen and the Seahawks to assist youth who have emerged from the shadows seeking services and help.
"We have great organizations across the Puget Sound that focus on homeless youth," said Paul Butler, Program Lead for the Paul Allen Homeless Program. "In Snohomish County, Cocoon House is the leading organization to serve homeless youth within that region, and one thing that Paul [Allen] really recognized as a unique aspect of this organization is yes they do focus on those youth who are down and out, who have lost their homes, who have been kicked out for being LGBT, and provide them with shelter and housing as needed. At the same time, they also focus very heavily on the prevention and diversion efforts that are so common in our community, that if there is a youth that is about to become homeless and enter the cycle of homelessness, they will do everything in their power to ensure that they prevent this from happening because we know once a youth becomes homeless the costs that are incurred are extremely high, and more importantly, the trauma that that youth experiences is extremely, extremely detrimental to their development.
"Cocoon House provides those essential wrap-around services to youth who are in crisis to not only stabilize them, but then push them into stability, and with transformational services, push them on to prosperity."
Julio Cortes, Cocoon House's Public Relations Manager who has worked with homeless youth for more than eight years, said the support the organization is receiving this month from Allen and the Seahawks "has a huge impact on our programs and services," and went on to outline exactly how donations can help provide critical funding for at-risk, homeless youth.
"Donations from 12s will go directly towards supporting Cocoon House's efforts to break the cycle of homelessness for youth in our communities," Cortes said. "With their valuable donations, we are able to provide youth with crucial substance abuse services and treatment, life skills classes, mental health counseling, family reconciliation services, case management support, and basic needs like food, and a warm safe place to sleep."
While Cortes notes funds from this month's campaign will be used to support substance abuse services and treatment, Cortes is also quick to point out that not all homeless youth are drug addicts or criminals, emphasizing that investing in organizations that provide prevention services, like Cocoon House, "is key to tackling the issue."
"The vast majority of the youth Cocoon House serves are homeless because of family dysfunction," Cortes said. "That homelessness then can lead them to drugs to cope with traumas or crime to be able to survive. I have worked with the homeless youth population for over eight years and have never met a youth who wants to be homeless. By also focusing on youth who are at risk of becoming homeless because of family dysfunction or other issues they are battling, we are able to ensure we prevent them from becoming chronically homeless adults."
The Allen-led homelessness campaign aligns closely with the work several Seahawks have been involved in this holiday season. The past couple months has seen Seattle players like kicker Steven Hauschka host a celebrity ping-pong tournament for Mary's Place and the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, while others like strong safety Kam Chancellor have donated toys Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, and even more have served meals to residents at Hope Place Shelter.
"You reach a point in life and realize there are so many people who need just a little help," said linebacker Mike Morgan, who hosted a winter clothing drive this month benefitting families living in shelters and attending Seattle's Bailey Gatzert Elementary. "The holidays provide a great opportunity to give back."
Added defensive end Michael Bennett: "At the end of the day, we are all human beings."
There are a number of ways for you to get involved with this campaign, the simplest one being to head over to homelessness.paulallen.com and navigate to the donate button, which as we mentioned at the top, Allen will match dollar-for-dollar.
If you're attending this weekend's Seahawks game at CenturyLink Field, you can make a donation to Cocoon House during checkout at all concession stands and Pro Shop stadium locations, via the Seahawks Mobile App, or by texting TEAM to 91999. Representatives from Cocoon House will also have a booth in Touchdown City, where you can learn more about their programs and ways you can help.
Finally, 12 percent of sales for every blanket purchased in December at the Seahawks' four retail stores — CenturyLink Field, downtown Seattle, Renton Landing, and Alderwood Mall — will go to Cocoon House, and an online charity auction offering one-of-a-kind Seahawks memorabilia will designate 100 percent of the proceeds to Cocoon House.
"I would encourage anyone that follows the Seahawks or is interested in getting involved to not only donate through all of the ways that we have available on this campaign," said Butler. "But also when they're hanging out with their family and friends during the holidays to think about those who are in crisis and think about volunteering at local organizations that are looking to address the issue."
Said Cortes: "There is no single solution to end homelessness, but by providing best practice services and having strategic partnerships within our community we can move in the right direction to end homelessness."
Seahawks players joined volunteers to serve the evening meal to residents at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission Hope Place Shelter on Tuesday, November 22, including offensive linemen Rees Odhiambo and Will Pericak, defensive end Frank Clark, running back Alex Collins, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.