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What’s happening with Bellingham’s new search for homeless shelter for 200 people?

Robbie Adams, right, helps a homeless person while volunteering at the reception desk at the Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ Drop-In Center in Bellingham on May 31, 2017. Adams was homeless, but was in a program at the mission that provides housing and helps people become self-sufficient.
Robbie Adams, right, helps a homeless person while volunteering at the reception desk at the Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ Drop-In Center in Bellingham on May 31, 2017. Adams was homeless, but was in a program at the mission that provides housing and helps people become self-sufficient. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The city is expected to have more information in the next couple of weeks about its search for a place to put a homeless shelter for up to 200 people.

Meanwhile, its partner in the endeavor, Lighthouse Mission Ministries, will have an open house Thursday to show Bellingham residents its campus and how it helps the homeless. The Christian-based organization said it has been serving the homeless of Whatcom County since 1923.

City officials had to renew the search for a site for an easy-access – low-barrier – homeless shelter after the Port of Bellingham decided in May to buy the property the city had wanted at 801/807 Roeder Ave.

“We’re still actively pursuing locations,” said Rick Sepler, Planning and Community Development director for Bellingham. “We don’t have a site identified yet.”

Sepler said the city was evaluating property that fit the needs laid out by Lighthouse Mission and the city.

Criteria included a site within a 10-minute walk of the Mission’s existing facilities on West Holly Street; one away from residential areas but within walking distance of the downtown core and near a bus line; and a location with a willing seller or property under public ownership.

An analysis of what properties may fit the criteria should be completed in the next couple of weeks, according to Sepler.

City officials will not be at the Thursday open house.

Sepler said people going to the open house may leave with the knowledge that the Lighthouse Mission was “meeting an essential need for our community.”

Lighthouse Mission provides shelter and other services to about 230 men, women and children each night, and serves 350 meals daily. Religious programing is not required for those seeking help, Lighthouse officials said.

The open house will include tours that start at the main shelter at 910 W. Holly St. Visitors may see the entire campus, including the nearby shelter at the Drop-In Center at 1013 W. Holly St.

Staff will answer questions, and provide information to people taking self-guided tours.

While the Lighthouse Mission has organized an open house annually for the past several years, its leader expected more interest this year because the city’s effort to find a site, in partnership with Lighthouse Mission, has been in the news.

Bellingham Police Officer Eric Osterkamp walks through a homeless man's camp at Whatcom Falls Park before a cleanup by Bellingham Parks and Recreation in 2017 in Bellingham.

Hans Erchinger-Davis, Lighthouse Mission’s executive director, said the tour allows donors to see their generosity at work locally, and it offers a chance to learn about the complexities of homelessness.

As the city searches for a shelter space, the Lighthouse Mission has – since October and on its own – been operating a temporary easy-access shelter that’s open 24 hours a day at its Drop-In Center to keep up to 80 men off the streets at night. Pets also are accommodated. That’s in addition to the overnight emergency shelter for up to 40 women Lighthouse Mission has operated in its chapel.

0731 Lighthouse Tour2
Jade Griffin takes a break at the Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ Drop-In Center in Bellingham on May 31, 2017. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Easy-access shelters have minimum requirements for entry, so people aren’t tested for drug or alcohol use before being allowed in, although they can’t drink or use drugs once inside. 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.

The proposed emergency shelter for up to 200 people is part of the city’s effort to provide short-term help for a growing number of people who are homeless, a trend that is occurring in the rest of Western Washington and others parts of the West Coast.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Tour the Mission

What: Open house for Lighthouse Mission Ministries.

When: 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Where: The event, which includes tours of the Mission’s facilities for the homeless, will begin at its main shelter at 910 W. Holly St. in Bellingham.

Details: 360-733-5120 or thelighthousemission.org. Learn about the City of Bellingham’s work by going to cob.org and typing “addressing homelessness” into the search window.

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