Eight years ago, the director of youth, assimilation and social outreach at Willamette Community Church came to the Jackson Street Youth Shelter in Corvallis with a request.
He wanted homeless teens to have a safe, stable place to sleep at night, like the Corvallis shelter — but he wanted it in Linn County.
This year, the request has finally become reality. On Thursday, the public is invited to the grand opening of the new Jackson Street Youth Shelter in Albany, at 1240 Seventh Ave. S.E. across from Hackleman Park.
Rep. Andy Olson will speak at 12:30 p.m. during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. This will be followed by house tours and refreshments.
An anonymous donor purchased the two-story home, formerly the site of the Salvation Army, on the shelter's behalf. It has taken the better part of a year to renovate the building into a 10-bed shelter for both boys and girls, said Kendra Phillips-Neal, the program director.
Officials with the shelter program quietly opened the residence to a handful of teens in May to make sure everything was working as expected. Most recently, two youths were living at the home, but that's a number that could fluctuate at any time, Phillips-Neal said.
The shelter in Corvallis always has been open to youths from both Linn and Benton counties, but service providers have long recognized that transportation is an obstacle and the need here remains high.
Albany schools alone recorded 324 homeless youths during the 2013-14 school year, the most recent figures available, although the vast majority of those were not unaccompanied.
Still, Phillips-Neal said, it's important to remember the youth shelter provides services not just to teens who may be homeless or runaways, but those who need respite from a potentially stressful, abusive or otherwise unsafe situation at home.
At the Jackson Street Albany shelter — the name remains, in spite of the Seventh Avenue address — children ages 10 to 17 are eligible for residence.
They can call themselves or come to the shelter through a referral, which could come from a school, a health provider, a juvenile service organization, a state welfare organization or even a parent or guardian who needs support.
Once youths arrive, they can stay for 72 hours. After that, the shelter pulls together a team to assess the situation and see whether the shelter is the best place for the youths to remain to fulfill their next goals. If the answer is yes, they can stay an undetermined amount of time (although not once they turn 18), continuing to make progress on their goals and living situations.
The shelter is also open to youths who just need to stop in for a snack or a bar of soap. Phillips-Neal said she's hoping the shelter's location across from Albany's skatepark will help develop more of those drop-in relationships.
In addition to its two overnight shelters, Jackson Street has a transitional living site in Corvallis and Cornerstone, the drop-in center at Queen and Elm streets in Albany.
When guests visit the Albany shelter next week, they'll see a dining room where youths are encouraged to sit down each night, family-style. They'll see the backyard, where the plan is to develop a garden; the quiet living room, with its computers and study areas; and the home's most popular room: the multipurpose rec room, with its TV, beanbag chairs and Foosball table.
"That's the biggest thing on Friday: pizza and movie nights," said Salvador Maciel, shelter supervisor.
Perhaps most importantly, Phillips-Neal said, she's hoping visitors will see "that we really are just a cool house serving youth.”