New project provides resources for homeless youth

The Ground Floor Project will take over The First Congregational Church’s bottom floor to provide a safe space for homeless youth. // Photo by Kevin Lake

By Chelsea Smiley

The First Congregational Church of Bellingham and Northwest Youth Services are collaborating on a new project to provide day-to-day services for youth experiencing homelessness.

The Ground Floor Project will transform the church’s ground floor into a safe, confidential and caring space for youth in need of basic services, according to the Ground Floor Project website.

“We want to meet people where they’re at,” the Rev. David Weasley, pastor for youth, young adults and mission, said. “The ground floor of helping someone is often giving basic needs. When building a building, one starts with the ground floor and builds from there. This is really basic services, but basic services that are designed to help a young person step up with the next building of their life.”

For the church, it’s at the core of their faith to be doing the work of love and justice in the community. In that sense, it’s the ground floor of who they are as a community to be providing this space and services, Rev. Weasley said.

“A young person comes in and certainly they’re [able] to take a shower or do some laundry,” Rev. Weasley said. “But also they’re building relationships with supportive folks who are going to help them throughout however long their process is.

Junior Hannah Svendsen is president of Western Community Outreach, a club that helps build relationships between Western students and people experiencing homelessness by engaging in community service.

“If you’re [experiencing homelessness] at such a young age, it’s much more encouraging to be around people of the same age,” Svendsen said.

The First Congregational Church has a long relationship with Northwest Youth Services, Rev. Weasley said.

He said a lot of people from the church have worked on the staff, been on the board or have helped at Northwest Youth Services.

“Northwest Youth Services does awesome work with young people experiencing homelessness, but it happens in a pretty tiny space right now,” Rev. Weasley said. “We have all this space, and you have great work that could use more space, so let’s team up for this project.”

Northwest Youth Services have been running a drop-in center on North State Street for the last four years every weekday, Jenn Daly, director of development and community relations at Northwest Youth Services, said.

Currently, Northwest Youth Services is in a 200-square-foot space with one bathroom that includes a shower and one nap room, Daly said.

“We do have that experience and we do see the need, so it’s not something we’re creating out of thin air,” Daly said. “We’re expanding an existing program to meet the demand of our community better.”

“They’ve offered us a 10-year free lease,” Daly said. “We’re partnering with them for what we intend to be at least 10 years, hopefully more.”

For the past few years, the two groups have been working together to dream up and plan out what this project would look like, getting the congregation on board and preparing to raise money, Rev. Weasley said.

Northwest Youth Services will be providing all the staff and all the marketing expenses through federal grants, local donors and the city, he said.

The church will be doing the renovating with funding that will come from fundraising, foundations and the community, he said. Daly said there isn’t one thing that makes a youth experience homelessness, and every youth has their own unique story and services they need to find stability.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the need exists,” she said. “In order to really provide the services that the youth deserves, we need a dedicated space.”

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