Doorway Café:

Design, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Navigation Center-Community Café for Homeless Youth in the University District

(UW report)


The Washington State legislature allocated two years of funding to “support youth and young adults experiencing homelessness” in the U-District of Seattle to support the development of a one-stop navigation center with services for homeless youth.i The funding ($500,000) per year is divided among UW schools of Nursing, Social Work, the UW Carlson Center, the UW College of Built Environments, and YouthCare, the winner of a competitive granting process through the Department of Commerce. Together, UW and YouthCare will increase the availability of services for homeless young people while developing the future one-stop center.

The project is designed in two phases:

Year 1 (September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018)

Develop tools to assess and map the needs and initiate the design of an ideal navigation café/hub. By using participatory design methods and generating a visual navigation tool, strengthen community capacity to quickly identify needs and connect young people with appropriate services. Hold quarterly “pop-up” service events in the U District for service connection and building credibility with the population, supporting community development in place. In collaboration with local agencies, place UW students in non-profit agencies serving homeless young people to expand service provision and give students real-world experience and skills.

Year 2 (July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019)

Continue to solicit community and provider input to design programs and ideal spaces for a community café to address marginalization and to provide community services for homeless young people in the U District. Continue quarterly “pop-up” service events in the U District for service connection and building credibility with the population. Continue placing UW students in non-profit agencies serving homeless young people to expand service provision and give students real-world experience. Step up U District real estate reviews.

Year 1 Outcomes:

  • Coordinated and conducted three Doorway Pop-up Community Cafés at U Heights (one café event per academic quarter), providing a broad range of health and social care, including housing and transportation supports. Served a total of 247 meals to homeless youth and young adults with an estimated 400 unduplicated people in total participating in the events.

  • Completed initial participatory design activities including community mapping with a total of 40 young adults (21 separate mappings); 27 in-depth interviews with homeless youth (average age 23, range 18-27 years); 20 key-informant interviews with community stakeholders; and, two digital storytelling videos.

  • Facilitated a community design charrette/workshop (70 participants) in May. Summarized findings from the various participatory design and evaluation activities, and gained community design input for the Doorway Café model moving forward.

  • Forged a collaborative partnership with YouthCare (including formal MOU with the UW School of Nursing) to share in co-design and evaluation activities for Doorway. This collaboration includes ways to ethically track the trajectories of homeless young people impacted by Doorway (e.g.: how many homeless young people are connected to needed health and social services through Doorway and of those, how many follow up with these services and have positive outcomes in terms of health and well-being, education, jobs, food and housing security).

  • Provided UW service-learning opportunities for more than 50 students; community-based research internships for eight students across multiple disciplines; and, Carlson Center community internships for 10 students for a total of 1,900 hours of community service. These placements allowed the expansion of services by typically strapped U District service providers.

  • Developed and disseminated via new web platform ( annotated bibliographies of participatory needs assessments and trauma-informed services for homeless youth.

  • Designed and disseminated via Doorway Project website a navigation tool of services for homeless youth in and near the U District. Average of 35 views per month/total of 1,694 views.

  • In early June added services specific to UW students experiencing housing and food insecurity with approximately 20 views. This number is expected to increase once the new academic year begins in September.

Key UW graduate and undergraduate student Doorway members had this to say in evaluation of the Doorway Pop-up Cafés:

In conversations with youth at the Doorway Café pop-up events, the most common theme we heard was that the youth already knew about many of the services within the U District. In fact, many were directed to the event from drop-in spaces like ROOTS, UDYC, or Orion Center. What many youth and young adults expressed was that the event itself provided a service that allowed them to feel welcome and remain within the public sphere, rather than needing to enter into an official service system.

Service providers told us that they found it helpful to have a space to cross-pollinate and build relationships amongst themselves. Better communication amongst these providers helps prevent redundancies and creates more seamless service provider handoffs and referrals.

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 9.38.04 PM.png

Above, is the initial design for the Doorway Café, which will have additional wellness, education, and counseling space adjacent to the café/navigation space. This will be refined with youth, service provider, and community member input during year 2.

Year 2 Goals:

Year 2 carries forward the critical direct service expansion elements of Year 1 and refines the focus on the concept-level design for a permanent Doorway Café and services hub in collaboration with homeless youth, YouthCare, other service providers and the wider community. In addition, the project will establish an ethical and sustainable method of long-term connection with participating homeless youth to evaluate the effectiveness of this new model of community-based care.

With regard to a physical location for a future Doorway Café/services hub, the project team continues work to identify the ideal location in the U District.

By the end of Year 2 of the Doorway Project we will provide:

  • A refined and evaluated navigation tool for connecting homeless youth (including UW students) with services,

  • Final concept and program design for an ideal navigation hub/café, and

  • Recommendations for location of a permanent Doorway Café/navigation hub in the U District.