EVERETT, Wash. -- Just out of view from a busy thoroughfare lies an underworld few of us will ever see, let alone experience.
"It reminds me of a third world country," said Elysa Hovard.
But it's far from Calcutta or Bangladesh. It is Everett, Washington. A filthy, sprawling homeless camp under the 41st Street bridge. About an acre square, the camp is littered with mounds of trash, shopping carts and makeshift tents. It's difficult to see a patch of ground for all of the garbage.
"We've had kids living here," said Hovard, an outreach worker for Everett's Cocoon House. "These are conditions not even fit for an animal and this is how our kids are living."
That's why Hovard and other outreach workers from Cocoon House are on these streets. They're hoping to get homeless kids off of them.
"It's such a sense of hopelessness," said worker Sergio Carrillo. "It's hard to put into words how sad this is."
With the explosion of heroin and child sex trafficking across the Northwest, workers are seeing kids as young as 12 years old on the streets of Snohomish County. Across the county, some 2,500 students are considered homeless. The actual number of homeless children is believed to be much higher.
"We're really trying to reach out to those kids who are falling through the cracks," said Hovard.
The outreach program provides hundreds of youth with food, access to drug treatment, job opportunities and housing every year. The drop-in center provides a place to take a shower, wash clothes and play games, but most importantly, it's a place to connect with people who care. State and federal cuts now have the program on the verge of losing more than half of its $400,000 budget.
"I was terrified when I heard the news," said Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin.
Without the drop-in center and outreach workers convincing kids to get help while they're still young, they face the likelihood of a lifetime of homelessness.
"We have to get to them now," said Franklin. "You see the skyrocketing population of homeless adults. That's what these kids' futures will be if we don't intervene."
An anonymous benefactor has offered to triple any donations to the organization. That means a donation of $100 becomes $300. You can donate at www.cocoonhouse.org.
For now, the outreach workers keep opening doors for the youth, hoping they'll walk through.
On Tuesday they encountered a 20 year old who had finally found a stable place to live in Eastern Washington.
They believe there are other success stories waiting to be told, if given the chance.
Said Hovard, "They've been let down by their families, the foster care system. We're here to tell them we care and we won't fail them."