More than 400 smiles filled the reception hall, every donor ready to support to their local nonprofit over food and drinks. Volunteers of Lydia Place spare no detail in their signature event of the year, “Hearts for Housing.”
On Saturday, Feb. 6, Emily O’Connor, executive director of Lydia Place, said the event is the biggest event Lydia Place has organized to date.
Lydia Place’s mission is to support all people in establishing sustained independence by providing housing, supportive services, advocacy, education and by raising awareness of the faces and causes of homelessness, according to their website.
Items available for auction were donated by several companies, including Alaska Airlines, Casa Que Pasa and Disneyland Parks. The Valentine’s-themed event included music from GMB Entertainment and a chocolate bar beside a red-carpeted photography setup.
Sara Alkhedairy, a fifth year Western student and development and outreach intern at Lydia Place, deals with event planning, community outreach, and volunteer coordination, which she says is behind the scenes work.
“I really enjoy community outreach, and feeling connected in my community,” Alkhedairy said. “After being in Bellingham for five years, I’m finally starting to feel grounded and rooted here, so it’s making me question if I want to leave.”
Teri Schomer, senior and member of Western’s Alpha Kappa Psi, the coeducational business fraternity on campus, said the fraternity is involved in volunteering for different events throughout the community.
“This is my second gala I’ve worked at. … It’s very well put together,” Schomer said. “There are just so many contributions and it’s really cool to see the whole community come together for this.”
Every dollar raised through the silent auction and drink purchases was matched by Ben Kinney of Keller Williams Realty, O’Connor said.
In January, Mayor Kelli Linville motioned to declare a state of emergency for homelessness in Washington.
Nonprofit organization Lydia Place was founded locally in Whatcom County in 1989 and has been helping homeless families since.
O’Connor said there were more than 650 homeless people living in Whatcom County, according collected from data a year ago. The numbers are expected to be higher this year, she said.
One in every five homeless persons, of those 650, is a child under the age of 10, according to the Lydia Place website.
“On any given night in Whatcom county, we have over 200 people who are actually sleeping outside in tents, on the streets, in cars,” O’Connor said. “Literally unsheltered in our community.”
O’Connor said the increase in homelessness isn’t unique to Whatcom County, but it is taking place throughout the entire state of Washington. Whatcom County however, has a housing shortage, and that’s why it’s seeing large numbers of homeless, she said.
After money is raised by Lydia Place, looking for affordable and livable apartments in Whatcom begins. Any affordable house in Whatcom county is considered.
Lydia Place also has 79 apartment units through the Bellingham Housing Authority available in order to provide transitional housing for homeless women and children, O’Connor said.
Once a place is found, Lydia Place helps the individual apply for the housing, she said. If they qualify and get into the housing, Lydia Place provides rental subsidies, paying their rent for a period of time until they get back on their feet.
Financial help is available for however long they need to regain stability, O’Connor said.
Lydia Place works with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County, providing housing case management to the mothers and women who are fleeing domestic violence and enter the emergency shelter, O’Connor said.
Housing case management is a group of people who work directly with the individuals who are in need of services, O’Connor said. Each person will be assigned a case manager who will be finding out what services the individual needs, such as housing, parenting classes, addiction courses, and other social issues, she said.
Among the variety of services is an evidence-based parenting program.
“The idea of that is that we want to break the cycle of poverty, so the kids that we’re serving in our programs now don’t grow up to need services as adults,” O’Connor said.April McCabe, case management intern at Lydia Place, said she mostly shadows case managers who are meeting with clients and working with them one-on-one by providing them with in-home support.
“It’s a wonderful organization. I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” McCabe said. “I think people should just be very mindful of the homeless situation and realize that it is a crisis in Bellingham, Seattle, and Skagit County.”
Lydia Place’s second-biggest event of the year will be “Handbags for Housing,” which will be another fundraiser happening in June, Alkhedairy said.