The number of young adults living at 22 North is set to drop significantly – part of an ongoing ‘restabilization’ of permanent supportive housing in Bellingham – following outcry over drug use and other crimes inside the building and in the surrounding blocks.
Opportunity Council, which operates 22 North, has asked the state Department of Commerce to reduce the number of units at 22 North reserved for 18-24 year olds from 20 to four. The remaining four units would be available for homeless students, said Adrienne Solenberger, housing development and operations manager for the Opportunity Council.
“When a position becomes available, we would like to prioritize the best fit for that project and that facility, rather than feeling pressured to choose from a certain age bracket,” Solenberger told Whatcom County Council on 9 august.
The Opportunity Council also told Bellingham County and City Council members that Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) would stop handling case management duties for 18-24 year olds inside the building. NWYS executive director Jason McGill told Bellingham City Council at a meeting on August 29 that the agency will play a role similar to other support services in providing advice to young adults who live in the 40-unit apartment building at 1022 N. State St.
NWYS would no longer have a permanent presence at 22 North by the end of the year, Solenberger said in an interview.
Young adults coming out of homelessness have unique needs that aren’t being met in the freestanding setting of an apartment building, he said.
“They need a home-like environment, a group home environment, to learn those life skills,” Solenberger said, adding that a group home for homeless youth is one of the pieces. missing in Bellingham’s efforts to reduce homelessness.
In recent months, the Opportunity Council has raised the bar for applicants wishing to live at 22 North, excluding applicants with certain criminal backgrounds while ensuring they are capable of basic adult skills, such as managing a a family budget and understanding the requirements of a rental lease. , Solenberger said.
Nearby residents and business owners have complained to city and county leaders about fights, drug use, prostitution, and public defecation in the immediate vicinity of the building.
However, after the Opportunity Council instituted stricter policies for tenants and guests, members of a neighborhood task force set up to address issues at 22 North reported that illicit activity around the building had decreased, at least during the day on weekdays.
However, problems outside the building persist. City council member Lisa Anderson said Aug. 29 that some activity, such as open drug dealing, has moved half a block away.
Overall, the perceptions of council members were mixed.
“I’ve noticed a very, very clear difference over the last few weeks” for the better around 22 North, board member Skip Williams said, though he admitted he might not have spent as much time collecting observations as Anderson.
In an interview, McGill said “community pressure” has forced the Opportunity Council to raise the bar for potential residents of 22 North, at the expense of homeless young adults.
“We prefer to take a harm reduction approach to meeting the needs of youth who reside at 22 North,” the NWYS director said in an Aug. 26 email. “All in all, I would say values have changed.”
McGill also praised the work of the Opportunity Council.
“NWYS stands with the CO and other local organizations doing great work,” her email said.
“At some point we will have to find ways to reduce the rigid requirements for people to be housed in this community,” McGill added. “If we don’t act on this, we will continue to see an increase in the number of homeless people.”