After more than a year of searching, the City of Bellingham has identified a potential location for a new emergency night shelter to serve those experiencing homelessness. Mayor Kelli Linville has been working with staff and community partner Lighthouse Mission Ministries (LMM), which has been operating an interim easy-access shelter in Old Town since October, to identify a location for a long-term shelter that operates with services 24 hours per day.
“Like nearly every city in Western Washington, the City of Bellingham has seen a significant increase in unsheltered individuals,” Linville said. “While the City has taken significant steps to address this through outreach programs and working with housing providers, it has become evident that the community is in need of an easy-access shelter that can address short-term needs. The proposed shelter will provide a place to spend the night that is preferred over our city streets and doorways. While the City is still working on the details with LMM and we have a number of items to address prior to asking City Council for action, we are grateful that LMM has stepped forward to partner with us on this great need in our community.”
The City is partnering with LMM to build a 24-hour, 7-days-per-week, year-round easy-access shelter serving up to 200 people. After an exhaustive search, the City determined that its own property located on the west side of Roeder Avenue between C and F Streets at 801/807 Roeder Avenue is the most suitable location.
The City's goal was to locate the shelter away from residential neighborhoods and retail business districts, preferably in an industrial area. While this site is away from residential neighborhoods and the downtown core, it is close to the LMM, which was an important factor in the site selection. The City-owned Roeder site is the only suitable location that was identified.
“Being in proximity to our existing operations and other area service providers, while being distanced from nearby residences and storefronts, makes for better interventions all around. It's a win win win!” LMM Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis said. “Doubling our capacity allows LMM to be even more responsive to Bellingham's most pressing need, but this $1.5 million challenge of refurbishing the building will be completely dependent on the generosity of our donors. We'll need their help more than ever.”
Out of 240 acres in the Waterfront District, a little over 1 acre of City property has been identified for use as an emergency shelter. The City is working with the Port of Bellingham to find alternative places to retain the current businesses and relocated them.
“Our preference was to find a location that was unoccupied, but, unfortunately, the only suitable site does have tenants,” Linville said. “While we are deeply committed to finding solutions to address homelessness, we are also deeply committed to our working waterfront. We will give our tenants plenty of time to find new locations for their businesses.”
Community concern about homelessness has grown in recent years, and this was reflected in the City's most recent community survey in which homelessness was the number one concern of residents. Bellingham is not alone in this issue, however, as it is affecting cities across the Pacific Northwest. Several Western U.S. cities, counties and states have declared states of emergencies on homelessness in the past few years.
“Addressing homelessness in Bellingham is a very high priority for me and for the community,” Linville said. “We know it's a complex issue, and there is no single fix. The City continues to invest in housing and health care services and innovative court programs to address the issue. While we continue to invest in permanent housing solutions, I believe we need a shelter to address immediate needs.”
Lighthouse Mission Ministries' goal to serve those most vulnerable
For 94 years LMM has worked to end the cycle of homelessness in the lives of men, women, and children in Whatcom County. LMM provides the most vulnerable in our community access to three nutritious meals a day; 24-hour shelters scaffolding upwards of 210 people a night; with access to life skills classes, referrals, case management, recovery programs and spiritual support — “wrap around” services of healing and connection that cultivate total life transformation.
As a part of LMM's overall continuum of care, the highest at-risk homeless individuals in “pre-recovery” are provided nightly Emergency Shelter with 80 sleeping mats on the Drop-in Center (DIC) floor for men, and 40 mats on the chapel floor of the main Mission building for women, as well as daily daytime shelter and meals. The purpose of the DIC is to stabilize incoming guests, offer assessment, and provide a motivational environment that initiates life-change and referral into higher levels of LMM recovery programming. At present this entry point to LMM's overall continuum is insufficient to meet the community need as evidenced by emerging capacity constraints, lack of amenities in the DIC, proximity to residences and business, and the increasing trend of unsheltered underserved street-homeless in downtown Bellingham.
Proposed shelter to serve 200 people
The City and LMM are proposing the following:
- A 24-hour day center and emergency night shelter serving up to a maximum of 200 people. The shelter would serve clients aged 18 and older and would open as early as 12 months after funding and agency contracts are approved.
- The day center will provide meals, bathroom and shower accommodations, hygiene supplies, socializing space, storage space for belongings, accommodations for pets, and access to various clinics and non-LMM service providers.
- The emergency night shelter will provide sleeping accommodations of up to 200 mats in the day center space and will be free of explicitly religious activities for the period of night check-in to morning check-out.
- No one will be discriminated against based on religious preference, sexual orientation or gender identity, and there will be no religious requirements or prerequisites to any services provided.
- Drug or alcohol testing will not be a prerequisite for staying at the low-barrier shelter, but all guests will be expected to maintain respectful behavior.
- Guests would be expected to not have weapons or engage in substance abuse or any other illegal activity on the grounds.
- Guests will not be expected to show identification prior to their stay, but each person will be assisted and encouraged to obtain an ID soon after coming to the shelter.
LMM is also committed to connecting guests with other services, such as transitional and permanent housing and case management.
Mayor Linville has reached a preliminary agreement with LMM, and that agreement will require City Council approval. This nonbinding agreement includes the following:
- The City leases the land and sells the existing structures to LMM, as well as enters into a services agreement whereby the City procures services associated with the operation of an emergency night shelter;
- LMM launches a 12-month capital campaign to raise $1.5 million to rehabilitate the buildings and the site;
- During this time, the City allows tenants the time necessary to find a new location. The Port of Bellingham has agreed to help find the tenants a new location;
- The City contributes $180,000 per year for a specified time to provide emergency night shelter services;
- LMM agrees to raise the remaining funds to operate the shelter; and
- Construction will begin after funds are raised through LMM's capital campaign.
More information and contact information
To learn more about the City of Bellingham's efforts to address the homelessness crisis, please visit the City's website. If you have questions or comments, you can contact the Mayor's office at (360) 778-8100 or email@example.com. For more information about LMM, visit www.thelighthousemission.org/. To contact LMM, please call (360) 733-5120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.