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New apartments coming for homeless youth in Bellingham

Joshua Gage, left, admires Shania Neet’s chalk drawing at the Northwest Youth Services store, We Creations, at 929A N. State St., in Bellingham on July 29, 2014. Youths create screen-printed clothing and accessories for sale for the store. It’s one of the programs offered by Northwest Youth Services, which is working to add at least 20 new apartments to house its homeless clients.
Joshua Gage, left, admires Shania Neet’s chalk drawing at the Northwest Youth Services store, We Creations, at 929A N. State St., in Bellingham on July 29, 2014. Youths create screen-printed clothing and accessories for sale for the store. It’s one of the programs offered by Northwest Youth Services, which is working to add at least 20 new apartments to house its homeless clients. The Bellingham Herald

Northwest Youth Services is working to add at least 20 new apartments in Bellingham to house its homeless clients.

The first 10 will be available this summer, with the opening of Francis Place Apartments on Cornwall Avenue at the end of July. The spaces set aside for Northwest Youth Services will be studios for young adults 18 to 21.

Developed by Catholic Housing Services, the 42-unit building will house people who are homeless and low-income, including those with mental illness and addictions. They will receive support services.

Having those services and 24-hour staffing will help ensure that young people who may need extra support outside of regular business hours can get it, according to Riannon Bardsley, executive director for Northwest Youth Services, a nonprofit that provides housing and other services to help homeless and at-risk teens and young adults in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

The additional living spaces are needed because low vacancy rates in Bellingham have translated into high rents. It’s also hard for young people with no credit history and perhaps a criminal history to get into housing, she added.

“That’s a barrier,” Bardsley said. “The criminalization of poverty and homelessness and mental illness does not do us any favors when we try to get people inside when we don’t own our own units.”

Northwest Youth Services has clients with housing vouchers who, nevertheless, cannot find housing.

Bardsley said having studio apartments also will help clients who don’t do well with roommates.

“I am so happy to finally have studio units,” she said.

Apartment vacancy rates for Whatcom County totaled 1.3 percent, which is considered extremely low, as of fall 2014, according to the latest figures by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. The average monthly rent for an apartment was $846, up $24 from a year ago, according to the center.

Meanwhile the last count of the homeless, conducted on a single day in January, showed that 75 youths age 18 to 24 were homeless in Whatcom County.

To help, Northwest Youth Services wants to build at least another 10 apartments on an empty lot it owns on North State Street, likely for people 18 to 24 years old.

The project is in the early stages. Northwest Youth Services is working with the city of Bellingham and the Opportunity Council on the project, and is talking to other organizations, so the building could be larger than 10 units.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

How to help

The nonprofit Northwest Youth Services needs help furnishing 10 studios that will be set aside in Francis Place Apartments for homeless clients 18 to 21 years old. The apartment complex on Cornwall Avenue is expected to open in July. The cost to fully furnish each studio is $2,500.

Make a tax-deductible donation by going to nwys.org and selecting “Donate Now” on the home page. Indicate that you want the money to be used to furnish the Francis Place apartments.

Details: Natalie Adams at 360-734-9862 or nataliea@nwys.org.

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