A 1-acre spot on Roeder Avenue is being proposed as the location for a new, 24/7 emergency shelter for up to 200 homeless women and men.
The City of Bellingham owns the property, which is between C and F streets. The proposal would be a partnership with Lighthouse Mission Ministries, which would raise $1.5 million to renovate the largest building on the site to turn it into what is being called an “easy-access shelter.”
The mission has been operating such a shelter on a temporary basis in Old Town since October. This one would be larger.
Under the proposal, the city would contribute $180,000 a year for 12 years, for a total of nearly $2.2 million, to help pay for the shelter’s night-time operations. The money would come from city property that has been sold as well as a reworked Bellingham Housing Levy when it goes back before voters.
Bellingham voters approved a property tax increase in November 2012 to help people who were low-income and homeless get into affordable housing. The levy was expected to raise about $3 million a year for seven years.
Under the proposal, the city would lease the land to Lighthouse Mission for $1 a year for 75 years and sell buildings on the site to the organization for $1 each.
The shelter proposal must still go before the City Council for consideration.
It’s part of the city’s effort to provide short-term help for a growing number of people who are homeless, a trend that is being seen throughout Western Washington.
“It will put a major dent in the problem of homelessness in this town to house an additional 200 people,” said Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries.
Mayor Kelli Linville and city staff have been searching for more than a year to find the right location – away from residential neighborhoods and retail business districts and preferably in an industrial area – for such a shelter, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer people a place to stay and sleep instead of the city’s streets and doorways.
The proposed shelter also is near Lighthouse Mission’s existing buildings. The city said that proximity was an important factor, adding its property on Roeder was the only suitable location that was identified.
Part of the 240-acre Waterfront District, the property at 801 and 807 Roeder Ave. also is leased to five tenants. The city is working with the Port of Bellingham to retain those businesses and find new locations for them.
“While we are deeply committed to finding solutions to address homelessness, we are also deeply committed to our working waterfront,” Linville said.
The businesses have through May 2018 to find new homes.
“Siting a homeless shelter is going to be a challenge anyplace, anywhere you put it. Our desire was to find a location that did not have those tenants, but it is the only site that we could get control of because we own it. It’s in close enough proximity to the Lighthouse Mission. The other alternatives were more intrusion into residential communities,” said Tara Sundin, the city’s community and economic development manager.
The proposed shelter and services would help those in need, Linville said, and respond to “community concerns about the increasing number of homeless people they see on our streets.”
What’s an ‘easy-access shelter’?
Lighthouse Mission Ministries isn’t new to running such a shelter.
It has been operating one in the chapel of its main building at F and West Holly streets.
On Oct. 17, the mission opened its Drop-In Center, 1013 W. Holly St., as an easy-access shelter in Old Town to keep another 80 people off the streets at night. It isn’t getting money from the city for this shelter.
“We saw the huge need,” Erchinger-Davis said.
The center’s use was a temporary measure while the city and the mission searched for a long-term site.
“It doesn’t have showers in it. It’s not the most ideal space. It’s what we have and we’re making the best of it,” Erchinger-Davis said of the Drop-In Center.
An easy-access shelter, also known as a low-barrier shelter, is one with minimum requirements, so people aren’t tested for drug or alcohol use before being allowed entry, although they can’t drink or use drugs once inside. Fighting isn’t allowed either.
The goal is to get people through the door, give staff a chance to connect with them, and build trust so those who are homeless are willing to get services.
“It broadens our front door,” Erchinger-Davis said.
The emphasis is having people come in so they can be stabilized, assessed and moved into recovery, allowing them to address their homelessness and get out of it.
“We don’t want folks just hanging out and doing nothing,” Erchinger-Davis said. “We want it to be something that is creating a motivational environment for folks to move forward.”
Like the current center, the proposed shelter will have space for clinics that provide medical, mental health and eye care as well as legal assistance.
Lighthouse Mission Ministries has been helping men, women and children get out of homelessness for 94 years.
“We couldn’t have found a partner that has taken more of the burden off the taxpayers than the Lighthouse Mission has,” Linville said.
Cold temps, growing need
When the temporary shelter opened in October – providing another 80 beds to the 150 the mission already had in various programs – it filled up numerous times during a winter marked by a number of snow storms.
“This winter weather, we need a bigger space,” Erchinger-Davis said.
On nights when the need was particularly great, the mission dealt with the overflow by sending women from the chapel in the main building at F and West Holly streets to Fountain Community Church on Broadway, which has been volunteering to shelter up to 40 in its fellowship hall on Broadway.
That freed up space at the mission’s main building to shelter more men.
The church, with the help of two other congregations, decided to help after being approached by the city over concerns about a tough winter, according to Fountain Community Church Pastor Rick Qualls.
“We were prepared to do whatever,” Qualls said. “I’m really fortunate to have a congregation of people that love to be able to give.”
The church had provided shelter, with the help of volunteers, for the mission’s overflow for 10 nights as of Monday.
How to help
Donate or volunteer to Lighthouse Mission Ministries by going online to thelighthousemission.org.
Donate: The mission is raising $200,000 to pay for the annual operation of its temporary easy-access shelter at its Drop-In Center, 1013 W. Holly St. in Bellingham. It isn’t getting any money from the City of Bellingham for the temporary shelter.
The biggest expense is staffing for the 24-hour shelter. Six employees operate it; three work full time. Utilities also are expensive at $1,500 a month.
In addition to money, other needed items are polar-fleece blankets and toiletry kits that include toothpaste, toothbrush and dental floss.
Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director for Lighthouse Mission Ministries, also encourages people to take a tour of the mission’s operations.
“One of the nice things about being local is you get to see exactly where the money is going,” Erchinger-Davis said.
Volunteer: The mission needs baristas at its cafe in the Drop-In Center.
Get the card: If you encounter people who are panhandling or sleeping in a doorway and want to direct them to help, the mission has printed information about its Drop-In Center and other ways people who are homeless can find assistance. It’s the size of a business card. Find it at the Drop-In Center or the main Lighthouse Mission building, 910 W. Holly St. The mission also is giving the cards to some businesses around town so they can pass them out.
Shelter at a glance
Here is what the City of Bellingham and Lighthouse Mission Ministries are proposing for a new shelter on Roeder Avenue that could help up to 200 people.
▪ A 24-hour day center and emergency night shelter for men and women 18 years and older. It could open as soon as a year after funding and agency contracts are approved.
▪ During the day, the center would provide meals, bathrooms and showers, hygiene supplies, space for socializing, storage for belongings, accommodations for pets, and access to clinics and service providers other than Lighthouse Mission.
▪ At night, it would provide a place to sleep. It would be free of explicitly religious activities from night check-in to morning check-out.
▪ No one would be discriminated against because of religious preference, sexual orientation or gender identity. There would be no religious requirements or prerequisites to gain services.
▪ Drug or alcohol testing won’t be required for shelter entry, but people must behave respectfully.
▪ No weapons, substance abuse or other illegal activity would be allowed.
▪ People don’t have to show identification prior to their stay. But each person would be encouraged to obtain an ID, and helped in doing so, soon after coming to the shelter.
Source: City of Bellingham