Local

City of Bellingham says it can’t find a suitable site for homeless shelter. What now?

The Lighthouse Mission’s Drop-In Center on West Holly Street in Bellingham has been operating as a temporary, 24/7 low-barrier center since October 2016.
The Lighthouse Mission’s Drop-In Center on West Holly Street in Bellingham has been operating as a temporary, 24/7 low-barrier center since October 2016. The Bellingham Herald file

Unable to find a suitable site for a new homeless shelter for up to 200 people, the city is turning to Whatcom County government for help and asking about its available land.

In August, the City of Bellingham said it was evaluating property – city owned, up for sale, vacant but not listed for sale – that fit the needs laid out by the city and Lighthouse Mission Ministries, who are working together on the effort. But nothing has met the criteria.

“For each of the instances, something came up that negated it as a viable choice,” Rick Sepler, Planning and Community Development director for Bellingham, said to the Bellingham City Council this week. “We’ve reached a point where we have looked fairly broadly, but we have not looked at other public lands that are within the study area that could potentially meet the criteria.”

So the city is turning to the county, which has property within the area Bellingham has been studying for a possible site for a low-barrier shelter.

The City Council asked Michael Lilliquist to talk to the County Council as well as other partners that may be able to help with a location.

Lilliquist is president of the City Council.

“The one given thing is we all agree we need a low-barrier shelter. We know that it’s a public health and safety concern. This is a county issue, which some of our County Council members also agree. It’s not just a Bellingham issue,” City Council member April Barker said.

“We need more partners,” she added.

City officials renewed the search for a shelter site after the Port of Bellingham decided in May to buy the property the city had wanted at 801/807 Roeder Ave.

Location criteria included a site within a 10-minute walk of the Mission’s existing facilities on West Holly Street; 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.

As the city continues searching for a shelter space, the Lighthouse Mission has – since last October and on its own – been operating a temporary low-barrier shelter that’s open 24 hours a day at its Drop-In Center at 1013 W. Holly St.

Such shelters, also known as easy-access, have minimum requirements for entry in order to get people through the door with the hope of getting them into services.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Related stories from Bellingham Herald

  Comments