As frigid temperatures hit, here’s how the homeless in Bellingham are being helped

Winter Haven residents moved from tent camp due to frigid weather

Jim Peterson, president of Homes NOW!, talks about moving residents of a temporary homeless encampment behind Bellingham's City Hall to motels due to cold weather on Monday, Jan. 4, 2019.
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Jim Peterson, president of Homes NOW!, talks about moving residents of a temporary homeless encampment behind Bellingham's City Hall to motels due to cold weather on Monday, Jan. 4, 2019.

Concerned about dangerously cold weather, the nonprofit that opened a temporary tent encampment for the homeless behind City Hall has moved the residents out of their tents and into hotel rooms until temperatures warm up.

“It was just too cold to be in the tents,” said Jim Peterson, president of HomesNOW!, the group that the city of Bellingham allowed to erect Winter Haven, the temporary tent encampment at 210 Lottie St.

Winter Haven opened Jan. 3. It will stay open there until the first part of April.

“It’s just frigid out here,” Peterson said Monday at Winter Haven as gusts of wind rattled the walls of a larger tent that serves as a kitchen and community room.

“This wind is just eating us up,” he said, referring to the blasts of cold that could be felt through tent walls.

Winter Haven does have some portable heaters, but Peterson said they couldn’t keep up with the cold.

The plan was to keep Winter Haven’s residents inside in hotels until temperatures were at least in the high 20s or low 30s, Peterson said.

That began Sunday night, when 15 out of the 22 residents were put up in motels, according to Peterson.

Peterson, in a video posted Monday morning on Winter Haven’s Facebook page, asked that people donate to the group’s PayPal account so that the group could access the money immediately to pay for the costs of sheltering homeless residents inside.

“I am begging, pleading, whatever I have to do. We need help getting into motels tonight,” Peterson said on Facebook Monday morning. People can contribute through PayPal to admin@homesnow.org.

Donations also came from Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, who gave her own money to HomesNOW! to provide hotel stays for Winter Haven Monday night and Tuesday night, Vanessa Blackburn, spokeswoman for the city of Bellingham. confirmed to The Bellingham Herald.

Peterson, a Sudden Valley resident who lives in a trailer at the site as requested by the city, will stay behind with two other residents to keep an eye on Winter Haven while the others were in motel rooms.

“Everybody’s stuff is here. We can’t leave it abandoned,” Peterson said to The Herald on Monday.

Meanwhile, the city on Monday told those who needed to get out of the cold that other shelters in the city had room for them.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries encouraged people to send those who were homeless to its Drop-In Center at 1013 W. Holly St. in Bellingham.

The center is an emergency shelter. Lighthouse Mission has been working with Fountain Community Church to host a cold-weather shelter at the church. It has been open every night since December, and other churches also have contributed to the effort.

The cold-weather shelter will stay open through February.

Last year, the church offered spaces for 50 women each night.

This year, the cold-weather shelter added another 30 spots should other shelters run out of space on the coldest nights, according to a news release from Lighthouse Mission Ministries.

The Drop-In Center and Fountain Community Church shelters are open to all, regardless of people’s religious beliefs.

To donate to the efforts or learn more about its services, call 360-733-5120, or go online to thelighthousemission.org.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.