As frigid temps hang on, Bellingham keeps open small emergency shelter for men

The city of Bellingham opened a temporary overnight shelter for up to 25 homeless men in the pavilion at ​​Maritime Heritage Park on Tuesday.
The city of Bellingham opened a temporary overnight shelter for up to 25 homeless men in the pavilion at ​​Maritime Heritage Park on Tuesday. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Feb. 15, 2019 update: The city of Bellingham announced it has closed its temporary shelter because the weather has improved. An average of seven men stayed there each night, the city said in a news release.


BELLINGHAM - The city will continue to use a small building at Maritime Heritage Park as a temporary overnight shelter for up to 25 homeless men as snow and frigid temperatures continue to hang on in Whatcom County.

Operated by the city of Bellingham, the shelter first opened Tuesday night and housed five men from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to a news release issued on Wednesday.

“The mayor has committed to operating the shelter for at least the next two nights and then will assess Friday if there is further need over the weekend or into next week,” Vanessa Blackburn, spokeswoman for the city, told The Bellingham Herald on Wednesday.

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said that the shelter’s first night on Tuesday went smoothly.

“I was there for several hours, and the shelter is a safe place for people to be out of the severe weather,” Linville said in the news release.

The mayor directed staff to open the shelter in the Maritime Heritage Park pavilion at 500 W. Holly St.

There is police presence at the shelter. There are rules and a code of conduct, Blackburn said.

Men who want to stay at the city shelter will be checked in when they show up.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries operates an overnight emergency shelter for the homeless at its Drop-In Center at 1013 W. Holly St. in Bellingham.

Lighthouse Mission also 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 more space be needed on the coldest nights.

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

Bellingham officials said the city-run shelter will augment those spaces and will provide an option for men who don’t want to go to the Mission’s Drop-In Center.

“We are operating this severe-weather shelter to support other shelter efforts, provide alternatives to the Lighthouse Mission, and to demonstrate that the city is ready to take action when needed,” Linville said.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries said it had space Tuesday night for 20 and 30 people at its extended shelter spaces, including at Fountain Community Church.

On Monday, Linville signed a proclamation that an emergency existed in Bellingham because of the winter storms that began on Friday.

That authorized the city to provide appropriate emergency assistance to storm victims and to otherwise act to protect life and property, the city has said.

Bellingham Police and Bellingham Fire continue to take those who are homeless to shelters in the city, according to the news release.

The city also continues to provide space in at Bellingham Public Library during the day for homeless women staying at Fountain Community Church’s overnight shelter.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management coordinated staffing for the severe-weather shelter and the Bellingham Public Library day center in cooperation with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, the Volunteer Mobilization Center, and the Opportunity Council, according to the news release.

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.