BELLINGHAM – Riannon Bardsley stands in the back of Northwest Youth Services and points to the two separate living spaces that will shelter runaway and homeless youths when renovations of the building on North State Street have been completed.
The left side will be set up like a three-bedroom apartment and will house youths in a setting more like transitional housing, with staff there around the clock. The right side will have space for up to 13 kids to sleep as an emergency shelter, with the requirement that they leave during the day.
When it opens in 2012, possibly in the first quarter, what is known as the Positive Adolescent Development project will provide a safe, warm place for 13- to 17-year-olds in Whatcom County who would otherwise be on the streets.
“They’re human beings and they deserve a place to sleep,” said Bardsley, executive director of Northwest Youth Services.
In addition to the housing component, there also will be a drop-in center along with a washer, dryer and showers for use by any minor in need regardless of whether the youth is staying there.
All the facilities will be on the top floor of the building owned by Northwest Youth Services in Bellingham.
The nonprofit was founded in 1976 to help youths in Whatcom and Skagit counties by providing a buffer between youngsters and abuse, neglect, homelessness, criminal behavior and family disintegration.
Northwest Youth Services hopes to provide services to more than 70 runaway and homeless minors a year through the drop-in center. The hope is that the kids who come to the center can be plugged into a support system and services that help them avoid becoming homeless.
“It also can be used as a preventative approach,” Bardsley said.
At least 50 kids could be housed each year at the North State Street facility.
About $137,000 has been raised for the project, which has a budget of $300,000. Bardsley said the final figure could vary, depending on in-kind donations or unexpected problems that might pop up during renovations because of the age of the building, which is more than 100 years old.
When it’s done, Northwest Youth Services will no longer pay the $15,000-a-year rent it does now for a house near Barkley Village that is home to its temporary shelter. That shelter opened in April and 30 to 35 youths have been helped since then.
As Bardsley walked through the renovated space Wednesday, Dec. 14, she talked about the community’s support for the project on North State Street.
Bellingham Bay Rotary Club has donated $15,000 to renovate the drop-in center, and St. Luke’s Foundation has provided a $50,000 grant for the project.
“It’s a very important issue in this community,” Sue Sharpe, executive director of the foundation, said about youth homelessness. “And it’s one that for a variety of reasons has been difficult to address.”
Examples of in-kind donations include Bellingham Technical College students who came to do the demolition upstairs and most of the framing. Meanwhile, an electrician will do work for $1,100 that would have cost $15,000.
Still, the project has been made more expensive by the requirement that each side of the space be separated from the other, with its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities.
Northwest Youth Services also must have a different license for each side, but at least in the 13-bed emergency shelter, a kid could be housed in the shelter without first having the signature of a guardian. That requirement has made it necessary to turn kids away from the temporary shelter near Barkley Village.
“We’ve found kids sleeping in tents who don’t want us to contact their guardian,” Bardsley said.
The renovations on North State Street also represent a turnaround for Northwest Youth Services. In July 2009 the nonprofit’s board announced that its budget had dropped to about $800,000, mainly because state funding had dried up. Shrinking private donations, due to the recession, also were a factor.
To contend with the loss of $1.7 million in funding, Northwest Youth Services sharpened its advocacy role for at-risk and homeless youths, and cut some counseling and foster programs, which affected hundreds of youths and families. It announced then that the former shelter Safe Home - which had served about 30 youths a year and was the only emergency youth shelter in Whatcom County - would be put on hiatus while the nonprofit worked to diversify its funding sources.
At that time, the shelter had helped minors for more than three decades.
The restructuring allowed the nonprofit to break even in 2010, after facing deficits in 2008 and 2009, and to reopen its shelter in April, more than a year after putting the program on hiatus.
That was made possible largely through $150,668 a year, for three years, in federal funding through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
• To learn more about Northwest Youth Services’ effort to build a shelter for runaway and homeless youths in Bellingham including ways to donate go to www.nwys.org/pad.
• Details also are available by calling Riannon Bardsley, 360-734-9862, ext. 116.
• Bardsley is seeking donations of lumber and skilled labor to build a ramp, and contributions of refrigerators and new kitchen cabinets, among other needs.