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Bellingham
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

29 years down, many more to go

By Emily Erskine

Amidst the twinkling lights, decorative cakes and drinks on the house, Executive Director of Lydia Place Emily O’Connor stood proudly on a chair and proclaimed to the masses, “We want to see everybody have an opportunity to flourish.”

This October, Lydia Place, a Bellingham-based nonprofit, celebrates nearly three decades of community outreach, housing relocation and individual services.

Rooted in helping women without homes in the 1980s, Lydia Place has since blossomed into an organization that strives to support all families and people who seek shelter assistance.

According to their website, the agency provides a Family Services Program, Parent Support Program, Community Re-Housing Program and a Campus Support Program (that helps women safely exit homelessness or tough situations) to people in the community.

At Lydia Place, case managers work with families and individuals year-round in an effort to improve the circumstances of their situations.

The fruition of these long-term aspirations were rejoiced on Thursday, Oct. 25, at Overflow Taps in Ferndale.

Since O’Connor joined the Lydia team seven years ago, the organization has partnered with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services to provide housing and support for women and families in need of from domestic violence.

In conjunction with DVSAS, Lydia Place has also purchased a piece of property to expand their shelter capacity. The property is also equipped with an apartment building for Lydia Place to expand housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Wise Buys, a thrift store in downtown Bellingham, has been run by Lydia Place since 1989. // Photo by Jaden Moon

Along with the multiple properties that have been purchased to house those in need, Lydia Place has also purchased spaces for offices and operational space. According to O’Connor, Lydia Place has plans to keep growing.

Among the two dozen employees at Lydia Place are Amanda Blomquist and Carrie Cook, both of whom are case managers.

The enthusiastic vibes of the birthday celebration resembled the spirit of Lydia Place employees describe when talking about their work environment.

Blomquist and Cook both said they love working at Lydia Place because of the fulfillment they get from their interactions with community members in need. However, Blomquist said the type of work she does there was not initially in her plan when she decided to come to Western.

“I was planning on transferring to Western to pursue a degree in psychology,” Blomquist said. “But in between my associate degree and getting to the point where I was planning on applying, I decided I needed a break so I applied at Lydia Place and here I am.”

Blomquist said she has been working at Lydia Place for about a year and plans to keep growing and learning with the organization.

“I was nervous but I just knew I loved the idea of working with people,” Blomquist said. “Being able to be a part of [people’s] journey of getting into housing just sounded like a blessing.”

Another important aspect of the organization is its mental health department and the accompanying counseling program.

Clinical and Program Director Erin Smith said she helped launch the program in 2017.

According to the Lydia Place website, the counseling services range from regular, ongoing one-on-one mental health counseling, to therapy groups, short-term crisis interventions, psychoeducation sessions, mental health case management and collaboration with community partners.

“Mental health is often a part of the conversation [of homelessness] but in ways that ‘All those people are mentally ill,’ and ‘They don’t want help,’” Smith said. “But really what we find is people really do want help, but they can’t access the programs that exist at other places.”

To round off the evening, Program Coordinator of the Campus Support Program Cherish Eastwood shared a story about a family she’d been working with.

“One of my greatest privileges in the years of program coordinating is watching the bond between a parent and child flourish,” Eastwood said, holding back tears. “There’s nothing more important than that bond.”

O’Connor said Lydia Place plans to continue growing and supporting the community in any way they can. With plans to provide housing opportunities to both individuals and families that need it for whatever their situation may be.

Lydia Place’s next event is a fundraiser on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at The Upfront Theatre. The event, “Humor for Housing,” is an annual event of theirs to help raise awareness and funds for families experiencing homelessness. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.

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