Northwest Youth Services
Fresh out of high school, the pressure is on for young homeless teens to find a job, housing, food, and medical care. Now, a non-profit Bellingham social services agency is zeroing in on the problem.
Northwest Youth Services is reaching out with a growing number of services, like help finding a job, connection to mental health services, support for LGBTQ youth, street outreach, and other services for young people between 13 and 24 years old. It is also working to complete a 40-unit low-cost apartment complex in downtown Bellingham. The complex is a collaboration with another Whatcom County-based non-profit, Opportunity Council, with the two agencies splitting the complex in half. Twenty units are reserved for Northwest Youth Services clients aged 18 to 24 and 20 units reserved for Opportunity Council clients.
The project is located at 1022 N. State St. and is known as 22 North. The idea was originally conceived 15 years ago and was brought to reality by Riannon Bardsley, the current executive director of Northwest Youth Services, her associates, and supporters.
The five-story building now under construction “is going to provide hope to community members that don’t currently have it,” Bardsley says. “It’s going to be a lot of cost savings to our systems, like our emergency department and police, because we will have people who are currently living in crisis be stable once they are living inside.”
The building will offer case management, vocational services, behavioral health support, and 24-hour support staff and security on site. In all it will cost about $11 million. The money has come from a variety of sources, including federal tax credits, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, the Bellingham housing levy, state capital budget, and finally Northwest Youth Services, which conducted a capital campaign that raised $780,000.
The project is expected to be completed in mid-October and already has a wait list of more than 100 young adults hoping for housing of some kind. Those given an apartment will be selected by a vulnerability assessment that looks at time spent outside and other factors that will determine their risk of dying due to various factors related to homelessness.
“It’s important to house young people because they have so much potential and they are creative and feisty and brilliant and they deserve the opportunity to thrive like all the other young people in our community,” Bardsley says.
22 North will go a long way towards Northwest Youth Services achieving their ultimate goal: being able to house all young people who seek it in Whatcom County, but there is still a lot to be done and many things standing in their way.
“Ending homelessness is going to require a lot of culture change and system improvements that Northwest Youth Services does not have the capacity to do and it’s not within our mission to work on all of that,” Bardsley says. “No non-profit organization can end homelessness alone and we absolutely need people to participate in advocacy, or volunteer, or investing financial resources.”
For more content like this, check out our article on another homeless non-profit here.