Several groups, agencies team up to help at-risk kids

Advocates on Whidbey are working to give voice to the voiceless by creating a task force to better address the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth.

Ryan’s House for Youth, the SPIN Cafe and homeless liaisons in Whidbey schools are cooperating in the effort to establish a task force which would bring together homeless young people from locations island-wide in a bi-monthly roundtable discussion.

Ryan’s House for Youth and Vivian Rogers-Decker, homeless liaison for the Oak Harbor School District, recently received a two-year grant from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) in the amount of $3,000 per year. The money will fund costs associated with basic needs such as transportation and food for the attending youth.

Lori Cavender, founder and director of Ryan’s House, said she and her staff will provide van transportation for students to and from the meetings, which will take place on both the north and south ends of the island on an alternating basis.

Both Cavender and Rogers-Decker expressed hope that these meetings will provide a platform for homeless youth to share their perspectives in a manner that will effect positive change.

It may be a “popcorn” conversation, Cavender said, as many youth will likely come and go due to their transient living situation, but she believes the discussions will still give her and fellow advocates a better idea of what needs could be better met.

Rogers-Decker said there are a few hundred young people who lack permanent housing on the island, some of whom lack any shelter whatsoever and are unaccompanied, living in tents or cars or on the street. Several more are “doubled-up” staying temporarily with family members or friends, or couch-surfing, some with family members and others alone.

The island lacks an overnight drop-in shelter for unaccompanied young people, Rogers-Decker and Cavender noted, postulating that this will be high on the list of needs. Cavender also suggested that transportation may be of concern, particularly if Island Transit implements fees in 2016.

Some of these needs can be addressed through community cooperation, Cavender said. Others will require more. But hearing first-hand what such needs are, she said, is a significant step in the right direction.

“This is going to be huge.”