BELLINGHAM - Northwest Youth Services will receive its state group care license for 16 beds on March 5, allowing the nonprofit to open its shelter for minors on North State Street the same day.
The opening means the organization no longer will operate a temporary six-bed shelter at another location that had been rented for that purpose.
Northwest Youth Services renovated the second story of its office building on North State for the shelter, at a cost of $350,000, for teens 13 to 17 years old. The project was made possible through labor, money and materials donated by the community.
The effort shows that the community shares the values that Northwest Youth Services has for "providing safety for our young people," said Riannon Bardsley, its executive director.
Six of the new shelter's beds will be reserved for emergency 21-day stays; the remaining 10 beds will be set aside for teens who need transitional or permanent housing.
Northwest Youth Services expects to provide shelter to about 100 teens a year.
Gail de Hoog, housing specialist for Whatcom County Health Department, praised the effort, which is known as the Positive Adolescent Development program - or PAD.
"We are thrilled that they brought back this resource to the community, and with increased capacity," said de Hoog, noting that the PAD was an important part of the county's efforts to end homelessness.
"Youths who experience homelessness, we hope to have the most effective interventions so that we can prevent a lifetime of homelessness," de Hoog said. "It starts with having these kinds of resources, like the PAD, in our community."
The cost of operating the program will total about $280,000 a year.
"We have fabulous support for the operating of the PAD," Bardsley said, referring to contributions from agencies and foundations.
Part of Northwest Youth Services' building has served as a drop-in center since October, allowing youths up to 20 years old to come during the day to shower and wash their clothes.
The drop-in center closed Wednesday, Feb. 27, in preparation for the shelter's opening.
When the drop-in center reopens March 5, Bardsley said only youths under 18 will be able to use it.
The budget for the renovation grew by more than 50 percent after Northwest Youth Services learned it had to build separate bathrooms and kitchens for what was to be two separate facilities - a short-term, day-and-night residence with three beds, and an emergency shelter with 13 beds for only overnight use.
But the organization had to change its focus because of a shift in federal funding, which Northwest Youth Services learned about the same week it finished its renovation.
Bardsley acknowledged that the nonprofit could have saved itself the trouble, and expense, of building two separate spaces had the federal decision been made earlier. But, she said, there will be more flexibility to meet needs that could emerge.
"If we see populations that need to be separated, we'll have the flexibility to be able do that in that space," Bardsley said.
The state Attorney General also will allow minors to find shelter with the PAD, without signed permission from their parents or guardians. Northwest Youth Services would still try to find those adults, but in the interim they will not have to put the kids out on the street.
"We can provide shelter to them," Bardsley said, "where before we were having to turn them away."
- Additional information about Northwest Youth Services, its shelter for runaway and homeless youths in Bellingham, and its other programs are online at nwys.org. Or call Riannon Bardsley, executive director, at 360-734-9862, ext. 116.
- The nonprofit also has a 24-hour hotline through its Positive Adolescent Development program. Since Jan. 1, the hotline has received 255 calls from Whatcom County youths, families and other providers asking for help with crisis intervention.
Of that total, 12 minors - ranging from 14 to 17 years old - needed emergency housing services, and 90 percent left with stable housing. Just one of those children was enrolled in school when they accessed the PAD program.
The 24-hour PAD hotline is 360-393-0116.