I recently drove to a Seattle cemetery to visit the gravesites of Rev. Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Boston. In 1921 Boston relocated to Seattle from Kearney, Neb., met his future wife, and after their marriage they eventually relocated to Bellingham in 1923 to start an outreach to destitute men.
The Bostons sacrificially served in Bellingham through 1937, including purchasing mission location property with their own funds. In 1962 Boston died in an Auburn nursing home and his wife passed away one year later. The Bostons had no children.
Subsequently, Lighthouse Mission has enjoyed a succession of committed husband-and-wife teams over the years who have led this Whatcom County "institution." Most recently, the 33-year service of Al and Ruth Archer through 2004 stands out as a testimony of devotion to the area's hungry and homeless.
As it enters its 90th year, Lighthouse Mission focuses annually on its purpose statement of providing compassionate services to needy men, women and children in the name of Jesus Christ. The mission is a local entity, funded entirely by local donations, no government funding, locally audited, and led by a 12-member area board of directors chaired by Linda Starkenburg.
Located at the corner of F Street and West Holly in the Old Town neighborhood, the mission operates out of a four-building campus; three of the mission's buildings operate 24 hours a day. The mission never closes and during inclement weather staff routinely spend the night there themselves to ensure that guest services continue.
In 2012 the mission provided 51,000 nights of lodging. Many nights 65 women and children are housed (about 15 children a night); men's programming houses more than 80 men every night. For obvious reasons the shelters cannot house guests engaged in illegal activity or activity that constitutes a threat to themselves or others, but over time Lighthouse has grown to house (separately) homeless men, women, mentally ill men (with tremendous support from Whatcom Counseling), women with children, men with children, hospital referrals, long-term faith-based programs for both men and women, and transitional shelters for men and women working or in college. Currently the mission transitionally houses at least 10 guests, formerly homeless, who completed a program and are now attending college. Regular staff meetings and drug testing are a regular part of the accountability process for all guests.
Additionally 142,000 hot, free meals were served in 2012. The mission is the only "soup kitchen" in Whatcom County serving three meals every day. All meals are served in shifts due to the size of the small dining room. Volunteers are a particularly tremendous help in this department. Fresh vegetables, beef, poultry and dairy donations are always welcomed.
For almost three years the mission has operated a drop-in center at 1013 W. Holly St. as an outreach to Bellingham's "street homeless." This program is open afternoons, Monday through Friday, and draws approximately 80 guests (more than 50 percent of whom are emotionally troubled or mentally ill) each day. An evening meal is served there as well and the center then closes. We have received a few loitering or littering complaints resulting in the reduced hours. We patrol our neighborhood daily for litter.
The majority of these poor outcasts have nowhere else to go, are not in a park or downtown; and they utilize the 20-plus non-profit agencies working out of this center weekly, or the three free weekly medical clinics provided there or have some, perhaps their only, social interaction. This center is a doorway to a changed life that we try to balance on the edge of a neighborhood and business area. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve these, the very "least" of our culture.
Unless these people are engaged they will never have an opportunity for change; unless I engage them I cannot call myself a follower of Christ.
Currently Lighthouse Mission is raising $200,000 for an elevator at its three-story 910 W. Holly facility. The elevator is needed to provide handicapped guests access to the first-floor dining room and third-story shelter and showers. Nearly $150,000 has been raised to date and corporate and individual sponsorships are needed to reach the goal and start construction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron Buchinski is executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries at F and West Holly streets in Bellingham. For more information go online to thelighthousemission.org.