• Jack Breckheimer - OYM Intern

The Odyssey Archive: From Parking Lots to Perry Street


A wall is covered with messy spray paint art and small posters. In the center, "OYC" (Odyssey Youth Center) is written prominently in purple spray paint with black outlining. Below it, a message reads "all are welcome here". The date "8.25.05" is also painted on the wall.
A colorfully-decorated wall in Odyssey's old drop-in location.

While the heart of Odyssey has always been its members and participants, these people needed a place to meet. Odyssey’s physical location and spaces have changed a great deal over the years; but throughout these changes, Odyssey has been a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.


Odyssey began in 1992 as an outreach program of the Spokane County Health District, initially targeting queer youth under 25. The first meeting of the group was held on June 21st, 1992 in a spare room at the Red Cross, separated from a CPR class by a small panel. Founder Dawn Spellman began advertising the youth group in the local queer news publication, Stonewall News.



Soon after this, Odyssey began utilizing a free space at the old YWCA location on West Broadway Avenue. A year after its founding, Odyssey would already have 42 participants…and, as such, had outgrown the YWCA. Thanks to a grant from the Pride Foundation received through the Spokane AIDS Network, Odyssey was able to open its own drop-in center starting October 15th, 1994.



This space, located next to a Hamer’s clothing store on North Washington Street, opened up a lot of opportunities for Odyssey youth. Among the first items acquired for the drop-in space were “mismatched furniture,” (The Spokesman-Review’s words, not ours), a 27” TV and VCR, a used pool table, and a collection of queer literature for Odyssey’s library. Odyssey youth made the most of the alleyway entrance to their drop-in center.


Photo from the mid to late 1990s. In a parking lot with older vehicles, three Odyssey youth are seen enjoying a small kiddie pool. One youth is drumping a bucket of water onto another. The kiddie pool appears to be filled with floating empty soda cans
Pool party in the parking lot!

The location was kept confidential from the public out of safety concerns. Youth who heard about the center had to be screened before being allowed to know the “secret location” of Odyssey. For nearly 12 years this location served Odyssey’s needs. But when told their lease would not be renewed in 2006, Odyssey’s Board and staff got to work finding a new home for drop-in.


The solution came in the form of a triplex in Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood. The building, built in the 1950s, was renovated inside and out to accommodate the needs of the drop-in center. Walls were taken down and a deck put up. After a brief transition period, Odyssey opened the doors of the new location on April 25th, 2006. As part of the move, the Odyssey Board voted to become an “out” organization, making the center’s address publicly available. Within a year, the official signage was installed, proudly displaying Odyssey's place in the South Perry community.



In August of 2007, the center hosted four Spokane mayoral candidates. In 2009, Odyssey held an open house for the community as part of that year’s Pride celebrations. 2022 will mark not only Odyssey’s 30th anniversary, but the South Perry drop-in center’s 16th birthday. Old enough to get a driver’s license!


While Odyssey temporarily shuttered and limited in-person drop-in due to Covid-19, the center is now back open 4 days a week! With this welcome change, we are reminded of the importance of Odyssey’s physical space; a space where queer youth can feel safe, comfortable, connected, and grow with the help of dedicated mentors. Odyssey’s physical space has changed a lot in the past 30 years and we’re excited to see what it will look like in another 30!

 

To learn more about LGBTQ+ history in Spokane, check out "Spokane's Pride: An LGBT Oral History" on the Washington State Archive webpage. The interviews included in this collection have been useful resources in telling some of Odyssey's history.


If you have any items (photos, news clippings, other media) related to Odyssey Youth Movement’s history and want to make sure it is preserved digitally in the tentatively named “OYM Archive”, please get in touch with us at intern@odysseyyouth.org.


If you have more context for photos/documents or are uncomfortable with their usage on Odyssey's public pages for any reason, please do not hesitate to reach out. Thank you for your ongoing support and stay tuned to all of Odyssey’s social channels for more content related to our 30th Anniversary.


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