Chris Mangar is just 18 years old, but his youth belies the insight he has gained through firsthand experience, particularly when it comes to the devastating nature of homelessness.
He’s a volunteer at Ryan’s House for Youth, the island’s advocacy organization providing services and support for unaccompanied homeless youth; but not long ago, he was one of those young people.
It wasn’t until he stepped through the threshold of Ryan’s House that he received the confidence and support he needed to get his life on track.
Soon, the non-profit will be able to expand its offerings in order to help even more young people.
The dream Ryan’s House staff, volunteers and students have of converting the former Countryside Inn south of Coupeville into a drop-in center and transitional housing is finally coming to fruition after months of diligent fundraising efforts.
Ryan’s House finalized the purchase with seller SaviBank last week and staff is planning to move in around May 1.
Numerous donations accounted for the majority of the price of the property, though the organization does have a $200,000 loan to pay back to an anonymous donor, and a small mortgage of $50,000.
The opening comes almost exactly one year after the opening of Langley’s House of Hospitality, South Whidbey’s first transitional housing center for families and vulnerable adults lacking safe, steady housing.
As previously reported, the inn fell into foreclosure late last year, prompting Ryan’s House to work toward purchasing the property.
The new space is large enough to accommodate offices for case management, storage for clothing, food and toiletry donations and a drop-in center, with extended hours and additional services offered.
It also includes a full kitchen for meal preparation, washers and dryers for laundry, room for a teen health clinic, and, perhaps most importantly, several rooms designated for transitional housing.
The clinic is set to open some time in the fall, and applications for transitional housing will be accepted beginning around the same time.
Executive Director Lori Cavender explained that once an on-site staff person is hired and trained, the drop-in center will be open 24/7.
“We are excited to be able to provide a space where they can shower, eat a nutritious and hot meal and do their laundry in a dignified manner,” Cavender wrote in an email. “We are also excited about the future possibilities of transitional housing, teen medical clinic and 17 acres of land to utilize for gardens and future ventures for the homeless and at risk youth here on the island.”
Mangar has a distinctly personal appreciation for the organization, and the ways in which the new center will benefit homeless young people. Until recently, he had been homeless on-and-off since the age of 15.
“The first couple of times when I was younger, it was pretty scary,” he said. “As I got older, it happened so much and so often it became one of those common things you come to expect.”
Upon his eighteenth birthday, “Things got a little worse,” Mangar said. His case worker at WorkSource advised him to visit Ryan’s House.
He was reluctant, at first. At age 17, while living in Idaho, he had reported to a sheriff’s station that he was without a place to stay, not wanting to be punished for disobeying the town’s curfew.
“They said, ‘Well, just don’t get caught, there is nothing we can do for you,’ ” he recalled, adding that he also sought help from a family services agency but received a similar response.
“When you go to those offices that are intended to help, it makes you distrustful of the government system,” he said.
On an especially cold, rainy day, Mangar finally decided to make the trip to Ryan’s House, a decision which changed his life “tremendously.”
“Ryan’s House is the type of environment I have never seen anywhere else,” he said, adding that he has been in 25 states, visited plenty of service agencies, and stayed in numerous places.
“I’ve met thousands of people in a short span of time, but I never felt the warmth that I felt here,” he said.
Mangar now has a steady home and job on the island.
He said he considers himself fortunate. Though being homeschooled had its pros and cons, he said it enabled him to learn problem-solving and life skills early on, something that was as essential to living on the streets as it was in successfully transitioning into a stable adult life.
“I think it would be very beneficial to have a place where young adults can learn how to grow into adulthood,” he said of the new Ryan’s House facility and expanded service offerings, which will include life-skills training.
Mangar is steadfast in his optimism, contending that he views his experiences not as punishment, but as an opportunity to learn and to share his wisdom with those in similar situations.
He also hopes to impart this knowledge to community members and leaders, with the intent of sparking a much-needed conversation on the issue.
“There is not really a lot of notice of the actual gravity of the situation. People like me and others, we are the future of this country and the world,” he said, adding that aid such as that offered by Ryan’s House is critical in the formation of a better future for youth and the world.