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Peoples Bank and Cocoon House – Working Together to Break the Cycle of Youth Homelessness

July 5, 2017

Imagine you’re 15 years old. Instead of waking up in your bed with a hot breakfast on the table, you find yourself without a home. Instead of getting ready to take the SAT or maybe your driver’s test, you are being pressured to join a gang or use drugs. Maybe you are committing petty crimes simply to help pay for something to eat. Instead of dreaming about your future in college and beyond, you are wondering where you will sleep at night.
 
Sadly, that is the reality for many homeless youths in this country. According to the National Center for Ending Homelessness, more than 1.2 million homeless students were reported as enrolled in public school districts by state educational agencies during the 2014-1015 school year. In Snohomish County, more than 3,700 homeless students were reported by Snohomish County School Districts. "I knew about our region’s homeless problem,” says Steve Erickson, Commercial Banking Team Leader at the Peoples Bank Everett Commercial Banking Center, "but it wasn’t until I became involved in Cocoon House that I learned about youth homelessness right here in our community. As a father of four and grandfather of nine it broke my heart, and I knew I had to get involved."
 
Cocoon House, based in Everett, was founded in 1991 as an eight-bed emergency shelter. It quickly grew to include long-term housing, street outreach and a nationally recognized prevention program that helps parents build their family management skills. The organization now provides temporary housing for over 100 young people each year, and provides counseling and other services to as many as 2,500.
 Cacoon House Logo
Most young people find themselves in this plight through no fault of their own. Many of them come from families in which problems of poverty, substance abuse or poor mental health go back for generations. "They reach a point at around age 14 or 15 when they decide, 'This is not a safe place for me to be any more, and I have to get out,'" explains John Rivera, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Cocoon House. “Eventually, they have no place to go. Cocoon House offers a safe place for these kids, and perhaps most importantly, we give them hope.”
 
Tracy Nakayiza is one of more than 30,000 Snohomish County youth that Cocoon House has helped over the past 26 years. Tracy was just nine years old when she was adopted from Uganda by an Everett family. But by the time she was 15, things weren’t working out with her adoptive parents. She had a choice – go back to Africa or find a place to live so she could finish school and pursue her dream of becoming a social worker. Committed to staying in the U.S., Tracy spent a year on her own, moving from one friends’ couch to the next, until she found Cocoon House. Now 17, Tracy recently graduated from Cocoon House’s program. She has a job and is on track to graduate from high school and become a U.S. citizen.
 
Tracy’s story is one of the many reasons Steve supports Cocoon House. A lifelong resident of Snohomish County, Steve spends much of his time at work thinking about real estate trends and opportunities – both for businesses and families. “When my eyes were opened to the problems facing homeless youth like Tracy and so many others, I knew there was a lot that I could contribute to the organization. So, I reached out to them and applied to be a board member."
 
Steve Erickson - Commercial Team Leader

“What do you mean, 3,700 kids in the Snohomish School District are homeless?”
-- Steve Erickson

Since joining the board, Steve has been focused on supporting Cocoon House's Capital Campaign, a project that will centralize its operations and expand its services. The new center, due to open in early 2019, will be located at 3530 Colby Avenue. It is situated near major bus routes and two blocks from Sequoia High School, where many of the youth served by Cocoon House attend school. Reflecting on his contributions to the board, John describes Steve as "a fearless networker and a fearless fund-raiser for this cause." 
 
Steve has also paved the way for Peoples Bank to get involved. Earlier this year he brought a couple of colleagues to a presentation led by Cassie Franklin, CEO of Cocoon House. "They were both deeply moved by that presentation," Steve says. "I think they had the same feeling that I had, initially: 'What do you mean, 3,700 kids in the Snohomish County school district are homeless?'"
 
Underscoring its commitment to supporting the communities where its employees and customers live and work, Peoples Bank has pledged $100,000 to the Capital Campaign over the next five years. With the continued support of individuals and institutions, Cocoon House hopes to further its mission to break the cycle of homelessness for young people in the community. As Cocoon House’s John Rivera puts it: "We can launch these kids into positive adulthoods and we can end this issue. We can get these kids early; they don't have to become adults on the street. We can end the issue of homelessness — but it's not easy."