After a fast-tracked project to turn a former grocery store into an emergency shelter facility in one month, the Lighthouse Mission Ministries new Base Camp is ready for occupancy.
The Base Camp – formerly known as the Drop-In Center – offers space to provide 200 adults, plus volunteers and staff, with adequate social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Construction is expected to be complete today (Thursday, July 16, 2020) and guests will begin moving in on Friday afternoon, July 17, 2020.
The 25,106-square-foot Bellingham Public Market building, extensively remodeled from its former use as Terra Organics & Natural Food Store, now has dedicated sleeping space and a community room for day use and meals. Showers and laundry facilities have been installed and a large privacy-fenced courtyard allows people to safely spend time outdoors on the property.
“We have created a healthy living space for people experiencing homelessness during this public health crisis,” Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood said. “I am grateful to City staff, the property owner, and the construction teams who completed this project under great time constraint. They turned a grocery store into a spacious and functional facility that offers a welcoming and supportive environment for shelter guests, volunteers and staff. It is truly a remarkable effort that benefits the whole community by reducing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.”
Prime contractors Colacurcio Brothers Construction, Andgar HVAC and Carlson Steel Works completed the necessary construction in one month, with the support of many local subcontractors, including Blythe Plumbing, Scott Electric, Cascade Drywall, Professional Fire Systems and Security Solutions, Lasko Contractors, Cutting Edge Construction, MJB Construction, LangCo, Lynden Interiors, Great Floors and Fullner Food Service.
“We are very appreciative of the efforts shown by these contractors in recognizing the need and urgency of this unique project, quickly mobilizing their teams and equipment, and completing the work on a very aggressive schedule,” said Eric Johnston, City of Bellingham Public Works director. “Meeting the deadline took extensive coordination by these companies and often meant after-hours, weekend and overnight work. It was an impressive effort that demonstrates the commitment these companies have to supporting our community.” Johnston added that the active support and participation on the lease and remodeling efforts by the property owner was important to the project’s success as well.
Lighthouse Mission Ministries Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis said Colacurcio Brothers Construction, all the subcontractors, and the City of Bellingham have done an amazing job successfully completing this project.
“We are excited to continue the work of caring for our friends and neighbors who are homeless at our new temporary location,” he said. “We have enough space to provide COVID-19 protections and a safe, motivational environment for our guests. We have received amazing downtown support and are working together to address concerns of neighboring businesses and residents.”
Erchinger-Davis said measures in place to help minimize negative impacts to neighboring properties include employing a full-time neighborhood liaison, implementing litter control plans, hosting a regular neighborhood advisory group, and plans for expanded community outreach.
Mayor Fleetwood said City officials recognize there are concerns about the impacts the shelter facility may have on adjacent businesses and neighbors.
“While we acknowledge the critical need for this emergency facility, we remain committed to helping navigate those issues to ensure negative impacts are minimized, and we encourage community members to show their support by patronizing businesses in the area,” he said.
The Lighthouse Mission Ministries shelter has been temporarily housed at Bellingham High School since late March, when COVID-19 restrictions and the need for social distancing began in Whatcom County.
“We are tremendously grateful to the Bellingham School District for allowing us to use their facilities,” said Erchinger-Davis. “Nearly 600 unique individuals needing a safe place to sleep have used this facility since the pandemic began, with 160-170 people being housed each night, and not one guest has tested positive for COVID-19.”
The high school location needed to be vacated by mid-July to give the district ample time to prepare for school to start in the fall.
The shelter operation cannot return to its location in Old Town because those facilities are too small to provide adequate social distancing while COVID-19 remains a threat.
The Whatcom County Council and Bellingham City Council approved a cost-sharing agreement for a new temporary shelter location in June.
“Base Camp is a wonderful example of our community coming together, making difficult decisions and implementing a solution to address a critical need,” said Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. “I want to thank the leadership of the City of Bellingham, Lighthouse Mission and Whatcom Unified Command, as well as our community partners, for making this happen in a very compressed timeframe. I also want to express my appreciation to the Bellingham School District for opening its doors and providing shelter space over the past four months.”
Lighthouse Mission Ministries, an independent, privately-funded, faith-based organization working in cooperation with the City of Bellingham during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to build a permanent shelter on an existing property in Old Town while the operation is temporarily housed at the Bellingham Public Market site, Erchinger-Davis said.
Health officials have emphasized the importance of working together as a community to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“For our neighbors experiencing homelessness, we need a shelter with enough space for physical distancing that will limit the chances of the virus spreading,” Whatcom County Health Department Director Erika Lautenbach said as this location was being considered. “Protecting those who use the shelter from an outbreak of COVID-19 also protects the health of our entire community.”
Base Camp page of Lighthouse Mission Ministries website