For the third year, Fountain Community Church is hosting a temporary winter shelter for women who are homeless.
Also referred to as the cold-weather shelter, it opened Dec. 1 in the church at 2100 Broadway St. in Bellingham to provide a warm place for the women to sleep at night. It will run until March 1, Pastor Rick Qualls said in a phone interview with The Bellingham Herald.
“It boils down to just being able to do something that is genuinely touching someone’s life and making a difference for their future,” Qualls said of the church’s decision to once again host the winter shelter.
The Bellingham Herald obtained information for this story through email and phone interviews conducted over two weeks.
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The shelter is operating amid increasing homelessness in Whatcom County.
Compared to last year, the number of people who are homeless in the county has increased by nearly 10 percent to 815, according to the annual census conducted in January. The Point In Time Count, as it’s known, provides a snapshot, and advocates have said that the actual number of homeless is higher.
Fountain Community Church is preparing to help more people who are homeless.
It expects to shelter an average of 45 to 50 women each night over three months. That’s up from an average of 30 to 35 women a night last year, according to Qualls.
The shelter is a partnership among several churches — primarily Fountain, Bellingham Covenant, Lettered Streets Covenant, St. Brendan’s Anglican and Northside Community Church — as well as Lighthouse Mission Ministries and the city of Bellingham.
It will cost about $35,000 to operate, with money coming from church congregations, the city and private donors, Qualls said. About $5,000 is set aside so that single moms and their children can stay in a hotel room, which also gives them a place to stay during the daylight hours when the church isn’t open as a shelter.
To get into the winter shelter at the church, the women must first go through the Lighthouse Mission, which will vet them.
The church transports the women to and from the shelter — in the evening for their overnight stay and in the morning when they leave at 7 a.m.
Having a temporary winter shelter at the church opens up more room at the Lighthouse Mission, which provides services to the homeless at its buildings on West Holly Street, at a time when more people seek it because frigid temperatures are dangerous to those sleeping outside.
Heading into winter, those who help the homeless feared they may have to turn away those seeking shelter.
That’s because the number of homeless seeking a place to sleep at the Lighthouse Mission’s temporary emergency shelter in its Drop-In Center, 1013 W. Holly St., has grown, Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of the Lighthouse Mission, told The Bellingham Herald previously.
Erchinger-Davis said there’s been a 20 percent increase in the number of people who stayed at the center this summer compared to 2017.
The cause could be an overall increase in homelessness as well as the effectiveness of Lighthouse Mission’s new Street Connect outreach program, he said in a November phone interview.
Fountain Community Church is ready to shelter another 30 homeless, most likely men, should it need to accommodate more during weather that is particularly severe and life-threatening, Quall said.
Similar concerns about daytime space at the Drop-In Center led the city to provide an emergency day center in the basement of Bellingham Public Library at 210 Central Ave.
That space will shelter only the women staying at Fountain Church on dangerously cold days, and would do so from which 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
On days the library isn’t available, City Hall will be used as a backup for the day center.
Erchinger-Davis praised the church for stepping in to provide additional shelter for those who are homeless.
“It’s incredibly important. We’re feeling hopeful we won’t have to turn anybody away,” Erchinger-Davis said.
“It’s an incredible support to the homeless of Whatcom County to have a church step up in this way. It’s not easy,” Erchinger-Davis added. “It’s a lot of work actually for them to pull off.”
Operating the winter shelter at the church requires many volunteers.
Qualls said about 130 volunteers helped last year.
“I’m not sure who changes more,” Qualls said, “our volunteers or the ladies we get a chance to serve.”
Transportation to the shelter was corrected Dec. 10, 2018.
Winter shelter help
To volunteer: Email Rick Qualls, pastor of Fountain Community Church, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help financially: Donations can be made to the Samish Way Coalition. By mail: c/o 2100 Broadway, Bellingham, WA 98225. Or deposit to WECU acct. #26110010701. People can designate that the money be used for the shelter, housing or special needs, including transportation and medical expenses for the women.