A former Lutheran church built in 1902 will get new life as a haven for homeless women and their young children.
During its existence, the Bell Tower also has served as an indoor skate park, home for a dance troupe, taekwondo studio and real estate offices.
Soon, it will be home for five women and up to six children ages 3 years old and younger – a highly vulnerable time and age range, according to Emily O’Connor, executive director for Lydia Place.
They also will receive services to support them.
Each family will have their own room and share the common areas, all on the bottom half of the church at North Garden and East Champion streets in Bellingham.
Renovations are being completed; decorating, too, with the help of individuals, foundations and businesses.
“It’s a labor of love and only possible with support from this great community,” O’Connor said.
There are at least 719 people homeless in Whatcom County, according to the 2016 Point-in-Time count, the most recent data available. Of the total, 47 percent were female and 10 percent were 4 years old or younger.
Because the annual count provides only a snapshot of the homeless in the county, those who help the needy often say the number of people without housing is actually higher.
Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women, according to O’Connor.
Women with children face a tough choice between staying in an abusive relationship so their children will have a roof over their heads, or leaving and becoming homeless with their children.
Bell Tower will play a big part in Lydia Place’s effort to help that part of the homeless population.
“We want to make sure those kids are the last in their generation to experience homelessness,” O’Connor said.
Part of Bell Tower already was a single-family residence – a couple and their two children were living there – when Lydia Place bought the building in September 2016 for $725,000.
The City of Bellingham provided $336,000 for the housing portion of the project. The money from the city came from a low-income housing levy Bellingham voters approved in 2012 to help the homeless and others in need get into affordable housing.
The building will serve other functions as well.
Lydia Place will continue to rent out an 1,100-square-foot space, called Bell Tower Community Center, for events. That will help pay for the mortgage it took out.
The upper floor of the church also will serve as offices for Lydia Place, and is part of the organization’s efforts to provide more space for its staff and programs – it has doubled its staff to 25 in the past 2-1/2 years.
And it has expanded efforts to help women and children who are homeless – increasing housing placements by 30 percent, as well as adding a parenting program and counseling services in the past five years.
The organization also is expanding its office on Gladstone Street, where it has been for three decades. It’s in the midst of adding a second story and remodeling the ground floor, an estimated $400,000 project that got a big push with $150,000 from Bellingham Bay Rotary Club and Rotary Club of Bellingham.
Here’s what you can do to help nonprofit Lydia Place pay for its current building projects or programs:
▪ Contribute to the Gladstone renovation by donating to the “Strengthening Families, Building Futures” campaign. Money has been raised to pay for 70 percent of the $400,000 renovation. Donate by going online to lydiaplace.org or emailing email@example.com.
▪ Rent the Bell Tower Community Center in Bellingham by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for meetings, get-togethers, birthday parties or other events. It has a 1,100-square-foot sprung dance floor made of bamboo, high ceilings and a wooden floor. Info: belltowercommunitycenter.com.