Shelter for homeless youth could lose funding due to mix of minors and adults

KING 5's Eric Wilkinson reports that a youth homeless center in Island County hopes to grow its services, but can't because some say the place isn't safe.

Concerns over perceived safety issues at Ryan's House youth homeless shelter on Whidbey Island are putting funding for the center in jeopardy.

Those who come to Ryan's House are usually desperate.

They come for food, dry clothes, and a way out of their current situations.

"They're welcomed here," says founder Lori Cavender. "It's like a home."

Cavender recently expanded what was a small drop-in center in Freeland into a full shelter located in an old Coupeville hotel. Along with a new drop-in center the facility has 30 beds for homeless youth, 18-24 years old. The drop-in center serves kids as young as 12.

That's where Island County Sheriff Mark Brown has a problem.

"The very last thing I want to do is respond to some kind of abuse situation out there involving a juvenile," he says.

Brown doesn't think it's safe to have adults and minors mixing, given some of the mental health and drug problems that can surface.

He contacted State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, about his concerns.

Smith then pulled a $200,000 grant Ryan's House what expecting for repairs, upgrades and expansions to the facility. Among the expansions was a small medical clinic to be staffed by volunteers.

The sheriff says tax dollars shouldn't go to a place with potential problems.

"Don't get me wrong, we need services like the ones they provide," Brown says. "I just think we need to vet that more. I think we need to look at it more in terms of structure and what it takes to separate those two vulnerable populations."

Those who work at Ryan's House, however, say the drop-in center has operated for three years with no problems. The facility has 24 hour security cameras. Background checks and drug tests are routinely performed. Cavender says minors are never left unaccompanied and the occasional mixing of older and younger youth is standard practice in many drop-in centers.

Cavender believes denying a grant that would better Ryan's House would simply serve to hurt kids who need help.

"We know what we're doing is right," she says. "We know we're doing everything we possibly can to create a safe space for these kids."

Cavender says the status of the grant is still up in the air.

You're encouraged to contact both Sheriff Brown and Representative Smith to express your opinions.

© 2017 KING-TV


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