In early 2022, Skagit County launched the North Star project, a joint effort between Skagit County and the cities of Burlington, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, and Sedro-Woolley to better align resources and services to address the complex behavioral health and homelessness challenges in their communities. Homelessness and behavioral health have been an important issue in Skagit County for many years. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to this incredibly complex issue. Local housing challenges, creating, and exacerbating mental health issues, and substance use disorders are some of the many problems the North Star Project plans on addressing.

North Star’s priority population was identified during Phase 1 following a service gap analysis and examination of available federal, state, and local fundings. Resources from this project will initially be focused on individuals who are chronically homeless and suffer from disabling conditions. These include substance abuse disorders, serious mental illness, complex medical problems, or severe trauma. The overarching mission of the North Star project is to make addressing homelessness and behavioral health a top priority, consolidated at the highest levels. City Mayors, County Commissioners, and Public Health are joining together and aligning forces to work towards a healthy and thriving community.

Having an integrated and coordinated system is one of the many guidelines they intend to follow. The North Star project is aimed at system change, which will include strengthening county-wide governance, developing strategically coherent initiatives, addressing root causes, and building long-term stability. Approaching this issue from a county-wide perspective and understanding that needs vary from city to city is also on the project’s agenda. Prioritizing populations is a key factor for this group on where best to address these issues. The North Star projects shelter, outreach, stabilization, and rent assistance programs will focus primarily on the most vulnerable to experiencing harm without housing and services for all shelter and rental assistance programs. Other project goals include increasing the supply, quality, and diversity of housing by developing a share housing agenda and addressing gaps within behavioral health and recovery-oriented services by mobilizing a Care Management Taskforce to better serve the priority population.

Skagit County is also contracting with Tenfold Health, a team of experts who will lead the community through a co-design planning and assessment process. A well-resourced, well-trained, and resilient non-profit sector with sufficient capacity and competency and ready access to good data is central to the success of the North Star project. A priority of the project is to invest in actively recruiting and ongoing training, especially those that are in the community.

North Star also recognizes that the goals of this project cannot be successfully achieved without prioritizing the needs of the most undeserved community members. Unbiased approaches for removing barriers to care and services will be at the forefront of all strategies being developed. “We are being specific in our approach by utilizing data and best practices to ensure the North Star Project efforts will be time-based, measurable, and effective,” said County Commissioner Lisa Janicki. “I look forward to the next chapter of our work together on the North Star Project to tackle this complex issue our community is facing. Now is the time for action.”

For additional information about Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the North Star project, please visit Northstar Project or call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.