Rachel Handy, housing programs manager in the Skagit County office of Northwest Youth Services, said homeless and at-risk youth have unique needs that homeless support services need to address.

That’s why Handy worked with her organization to roll out new programs aimed at homeless ages 18 to 24.

“We saw a need in our youth for more options,” she said.

Handy said the traditional housing market can be harder on homeless youth than it is on those who are older and homeless, because the youth have had fewer chances to build income or rental histories.

Northwest Youth Services’ new permanent housing program collaborates with homeless youth to provide case management and renters’ education to help them sign their own lease.

It is designed to help individuals and families move to stable housing situations quickly, and it offers short-term rental subsidies.

Northwest Youth Services has also opened a four-bedroom emergency shelter in Mount Vernon where homeless youth can stay for up to 90 days. Handy said this is a start at addressing the need for shelters in the county.

Finally, a vocational readiness program was introduced, which helps youth identify their strengths and interests, and prepares them for the workplace.

Northwest Youth Services already operates 13 units of transitional housing, where people can stay 6 to 18 months while also getting help with education and case management.

In 2015, all of the nonprofit’s transitional housing residents left the program for more stable living situations.

The wait list for this program is 6 to 12 months, Handy said, which illustrates the need for more such programs.

Shelly Kjos, housing program manager at Community Action of Skagit County, works with Northwest Youth Services. She said the organization adds value to the county’s homeless support network.

“Youth are a specifically vulnerable population to housing instability,” she said, adding that by focusing on youth Northwest Youth Services can tailor its programs more specifically.

Kjos said Northwest Youth Services is a vital advocate for the youth homeless population, and has already increased the amount of conversation about that demographic.

To help fund Northwest Youth Services operations, Farmstrong Brewing, The Porterhouse, North Sound Brewing and Empire Alehouse are hosting a fundraising event Tuesday, with 10 percent of sales going to the Northwest Youth Services.

Farmstrong and The Porterhouse are also sponsoring the nonprofit’s “Survival Drive,” collecting donated coats, boots and other waterproof winter gear throughout December. Handy called the drive a method of helping wait-listed youth get through the winter.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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