Homelessness in Bellingham: How you can help
Participants focus intently on their game during Melee for Meals // Photo by Emily Jackson
Bond Hall 112 was brightly lit and filled with laughter despite the dripping rain outside. A group of students pulled wooden desks into a circle and began to strategize.
Members of the Western Community Outreach Club were planning Melee for Meals, a charity video game tournament.
Students competed from noon to 6 p.m Saturday in Viking Union 565. The event raised over $500, junior Hannah Svendsen, the club co-president, said.
The gaming competition was created in partnership with the WWU Super Smash Bros. Club, she said. The goal of the event was to raise funds to benefit the homeless and hungry in Bellingham, according to the website. The video game of choice: Super Smash Bros. Melee.
All of the proceeds from the venue fee will be used to buy food and supplies for people experiencing homelessness in Bellingham, the website said.
Students like these help serve the homeless community in Whatcom County and beyond. They also invite other students to volunteer their time to help end homelessness at events like Melee for Meals.
Lydia Place hosted a volunteering event on Sunday, April 22, where the Bellingham community helped with street cleaning, gardening and organizing around the city for Earth Day.
Volunteering at Western
Western Community Outreach Club is dedicated to assisting and reaching out to the homeless community in Whatcom County, according to their website. This outreach includes quarterly events, including Be Our Guest, a day when students offer a guest meal to people struggling to find food.
The next Be Our Guest event is June 8, Svendsen said.
“It’s a great experience,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of awesome people through this club.”
Junior Nicole Rhodes is the community outreach officer for the club. Rhodes said her task is to reach out to organizations in Bellingham to find volunteer opportunities. She’s been involved with the club for over a year now, she said.
In addition to special events like Melee for Meals, WCO has hosted bake sales, sock drives and group trips to city hall meetings, Svendsen said. The club has also volunteered with Lydia Place, the Lighthouse Mission, and HomesNow!, three local organizations that work to end homelessness, she said.
Rhodes said the club is always looking for volunteers, even if students can only come occasionally. There are even volunteer opportunities open this Saturday at Melee for Meals.
If you would like to volunteer, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteering in the Community
There are multiple organizations working to end homelessness in Whatcom County, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said in an email, all of which students can get involved with too.
Linville said she thinks students are a valued part of the effort to end homelessness in Whatcom County.
“We have many partners that are helping people in need,” she said. “We very much appreciate it when students get involved.”
The City of Bellingham website contains a list of local organizations and agencies that address the issue of homelessness.
One of these organizations, Lydia Place, hosted an Earth Day volunteer event Sunday, April 22. Students who want to help in other ways are invited to visit the volunteer tab on the Lydia Place website, said Shultzie Willows, community engagement director for Lydia Place.
Willows said students can donate time and resources to ongoing fundraising programs like their community thrift store Wise Buys. Students can also donate time and resources at special events like Handbags for Housing, a fashion and shopping event on June 7 in Barkley Village.
Lighthouse Mission Ministries, a local nonprofit that provides services and resources to people struggling with homelessness, also provides volunteer opportunities for students.
Stephen Cairns, a senior at Western, works as a supervisor at the Lighthouse Mission Drop-In Center.
He said his passion for helping end homelessness started in high school, when he and a friend worked with people experiencing homelessness in Seattle’s University District.
He encouraged all students to give volunteering a try.
“Think about yourself being in a homeless experience,” Cairns said. “You have the opportunity to stop that, to speak into someone’s life.”
To get involved, email the Lighthouse Mission Volunteer Coordinator at email@example.com.
Volunteering in Washington State
Volunteer opportunities aren’t just at Western, either. Students in other parts of Washington state are advocating for the homeless community too.
Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness partners with other organizations to spread awareness about the issue in the community.
Project director Catherine Hinrichsen said students recently participated in Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day in Olympia on Feb. 1.
Hinrichsen worked with a team of student employees, Katie Bradley, Tess Riski and Madison Vucci, who inspired 500 people to write postcards to a key legislator about affordable housing and homelessness. The student team presented the postcards at a legislative district meeting in Olympia on Feb. 1, she said.
Students who want to hear about other advocacy opportunities can sign up for advocacy updates from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, she said.
While people can have divided opinions on student involvement, Hinrichsen said in her experience, adults can learn from students and vice versa.
“Students can be a really powerful force for organizing change,” she said.