For Bellingham community members struggling with homelessness, finding a warm, safe place to sleep can be a challenge, but a Bellingham program is now offering 80 more options.Lighthouse Mission Ministries, an organization providing food, shelter and other services to those in need, has expanded their overnight drop-in center on 1013 W Holly St. The shelter has tripled its available shelter, now offering 80 beds for men in the drop-in center and 40 beds for women in what was previously the Mission’s overflow shelter.Prior to the new additions, the drop-in center was located in the chapel and had a 40-person capacity. It was strictly for any Bellingham community member in need of a place to sleep.In order to expand, Lighthouse Mission Ministries converted their daytime center into an overnight center that will remain open 24/7.Before the improvements the daytime center was only open on weekdays from noon to 5 p.m. Homeless community members could stop in during those hours to eat, play games, drink coffee and socialize free of charge. Now they will be able to sleep there too. “We are going to need even more space I believe, so this is a temporary fix,” said Western alumni Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries. “I see this going for the next couple of years, before finding a new facility to accommodate people better.”The new additions add about $200,000 to the programs costs, which isn’t in the budget, Erchinger-Davis said. The mission is taking a leap of faith and hopes the community will view this expansion as an important necessity. The privately funded organization has operating costs of about $2 million a year.Homelessness has been a constant issue in Washington State. Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville addressed the crisis as a state-wide emergency in a letter addressed to the governor sent in early 2016, and has pushed for more affordable housing options in Bellingham.According to the annual Whatcom County homeless census, the number of homeless community members has continued to increase since 2012, when 493 homeless people were counted. This year the number rose to 719 homeless individuals.
"It can be very detrimental to see them in a state of duress, but here it gives them a place to stay warm, stay dry, and a sanitary place for them to just drop in.”
The expansion was well timed considering the impending cold, Bellingham weather we expect to have this winter, said Charles Quintanilla, a homeless member of the drop-in center.“With these coming months (the new expansion) is going to be very well needed, very well appreciated,” Quintanilla said. “The environment is going to get a lot worse, and having an outlet for people to just hang their coats up is very well needed, considering the health of people who tend to just stay outside in this weather. It can be very detrimental to see them in a state of duress, but here it gives them a place to stay warm, stay dry, and a sanitary place for them to just drop in.”The drop-in center is considered a low barrier, easy access program where there are no requirements upon entering, Erchinger-Davis said. There are a variety of programs coordinated through Lighthouse Mission Ministries that address people’s needs based on their different stages of recovery.
Lighthouse Mission Ministries aims to keep homeless community members pressured to bettering their livelihoods in a positive way by introducing them to step-by-step programs.
“Much like you would do with a good piano teacher, who’s going to push their student to play better at a rate they can handle, but not expect Beethoven right off the bat,” Erchinger-Davis said.Being a privately funded organization, Lighthouse Mission Ministries is completely donation based. Another way to get involved is to volunteer and rub shoulders with homeless community members to get a taste of what their humanity is like, while helping perform responsibilities around the establishment.“Without the volunteers, (Lighthouse Mission Ministries) would be in deep difficulty; the volunteers are the backbone of the institution,” said Diane Bruland, a volunteer who has been working with the mission for about 10 years. “All of the places that have activities, the volunteers come in and work, whether they’re sorting clothes for donations or putting on parties and events.”For further information about their organization you can visit Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ website, thelighthousemission.org.