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This project could help reduce loitering in front of the Drop-In Center in Bellingham

Whatcom County’s Point-In-Time Count tracks homelessness

The Opportunity Council and the Whatcom County Health Department released the 2019 Point-In-Time Count – an annual census that tracks the number of people who are homeless in Whatcom County.
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The Opportunity Council and the Whatcom County Health Department released the 2019 Point-In-Time Count – an annual census that tracks the number of people who are homeless in Whatcom County.

The three portable toilets in front of the Drop-In Center will be removed once Lighthouse Mission Ministries builds additional bathrooms this year.

The Drop-In Center at 1013 W. Holly St. is a day center and an overnight emergency shelter for people who are homeless.

About 200 people who are homeless use the center each day and up to 80 people sleep there each night.

“This (bathroom) expansion will allow them to remove the port-a-potties, which will significantly improve sanitation, safety and security while lessening sidewalk congestion,” Tara Sundin, the city’s Community and Economic Development manager, wrote in a staff memo to the City Council.

The matter went before the City Council earlier this week because it was being asked to cut the fee for a water meter required for the project by 80%, or $5,410.

Council members had to decide there was a public benefit to doing so.

“Shelters serving the homeless are a very high priority for the city,” Sundin said in the staff memo.

The council did and unanimously approved the fee reduction.

The Drop-In Center has two single bathrooms, with a toilet and sink in each, requiring that portable toilets also be used.

Those single bathrooms will be replaced with a total of six toilets, two urinals and five sinks at a cost of up to $40,000, Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director for Lighthouse Mission Ministries, told The Bellingham Herald. The project includes a gender-neutral wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

The Christian-based organization is raising money to pay for the project.

“We want it completed before the winter rush,” Erchinger-Davis said, referring to the time of the year when more of those who are homeless seek shelter out of the cold.

Erchinger-Davis said additional restrooms were needed because more people have been coming to the Drop-In Center for help.

He attributed that to the effectiveness of the organization’s street outreach and its mobile shower trailer.

“With these increased numbers the port-a-potties have now outlived their effectiveness. ADA accessibility needs are on the rise,” Erchinger-Davis said. “Improved sanitation and security elements, as well as a reduction in loitering from non-shelter compliant people on the facility’s perimeter, will continue to make the ‘front door’ of Mission services all the more attractive to a suffering people desperate to be saved.”

Learn more at 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.
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