Youth homelessness might be a hidden problem in Island County, but there’s one organization that’s continued to seek it out and offer support for the past 10 years.
To celebrate a decade of work providing services, temporary housing and resources to at-risk young people, Ryan’s House for Youth will host a public event at 3 p.m., Saturday at its Coupeville Campus.
The birthday party will include tours of recently renovated spaces in the facility, volunteer recognition and a cake donated by CJ&Y Desserts.
Although the event will serve as a time to reflect on the nonprofit group’s success and progress, founder and Executive Director Lori Cavender won’t just be looking back.
The organization recently received a grant from the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project to expand outreach on South Whidbey and in Oak Harbor. Cavender, who started Ryan’s House in Freeland, is working on opening a drop-in center in or around Langley. She’s hoping to find somewhere easily accessible from the schools.
The grant will also be used to open an office in Oak Harbor to serve as a point of intake for youth in the city.
“You have to be so intentional about reaching these young people,” Cavender said.
She said young people, especially students, often try their hardest to hide their living situation. But it continues to be a problem faced by many on the island. Last year, there were 60 unaccompanied students in Coupeville public schools and 90 in the Oak Harbor school district.
Some young people can apply for the host family program or go through family mediation with a Ryan’s House case manager. She’s looking for more households to volunteer for the program so that she can have at least two options on each part of the island.
The organization has sheltered 56 children and young adults through its host family program. Those age 18 to 24 may consider the emergency or transitional housing on the campus.
In addition to a bed, the young adults will receive support to finish school, learn how to budget or support finding a job. And it seems to be working. Last year, 84 percent of the people in the transitional housing program entered stable housing, Cavender said.
Her goal remains, as it has for the last 10 years, to someday open a shelter for homeless youth. She said when young people are couch surfing and trying to hide their situation, it can put them in dangerous living situations or in unhealthy relationships.
Last year, the nonprofit served 85 young adults and 21 youth. Five teenagers that were receiving services from Ryan’s House graduated from high school.
Through its transportation program, these young people traveled more than 11,000 miles to school, jobs, the doctor’s office and legal appointments.
Although she’s looking forward, Cavender said she also appreciates the opportunity to reflect on how far she’s come. She started Ryan’s House using a donated van to provide youth in need with such necessities as school supplies, water or sleeping bags; whatever she didn’t have, she would make sure to bring the next time she was around.
The nonprofit has been on its Coupeville campus, which was formerly the Countryside Inn, for three years. It has housed young people who are now in college, employed and starting families, she said. She hopes that someday, youth homelessness will reach functional zero and her services won’t be needed anymore.
“We’ve been trying really hard for 10 years to work ourselves out of a job,” Cavender said.