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Lighthouse Mission Ministries moves drop-in center to Bellingham High School

Sleeping mats in the gym are spaced six feet apart, following CDC guidelines. // Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Mission Ministry

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, those in need can still have a place to stay

By Makenna Marks

Bellingham High School has been the new home to Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ Drop-In Center since March 20, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Drop-In Center is open 24 hours, seven days a week and offers services such as access to three meals a day, showers and medical attention.

The move to Bellingham High School shortly followed the enactment of the Emergency Proclamation, signed by Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood. 

“Mayor Fleetwood has enabled use of public facilities for pandemic response through the Emergency Proclamation he signed on March 20,” Janice Keller, the communications director at the Mayor’s Office, said in an email.

The proclamation states: “Many public facilities, including those owned by the City of Bellingham, Bellingham Public School District, and other entities, could provide temporary shelter to people experiencing homelessness.”

The Bellingham community is coming together to help get through this tough time.

“We are actively engaged with our partners and implementing many solutions to slow the spread of illness and lead our community to be better positioned for recovery,” Fleetwood said in a prepared statement. “We all are working collaboratively in the spirit of our unified mission.”

Bridget Reeves, the executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries has been working at the Drop-In Center at its new location. Prior to the move, Reeves said that they have turned people away because they did not have enough space or resources.

Drop-In Center staff wear masks for their shift. Left to right: Trish Anker, Catherine Russell, Tailer Craner and Katie Anderson. // Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Mission Ministry

“Prior to Bellingham High School, we were running about 163 people per night, and we were turning away 10 to 15 people,” Reeves said.

Since moving to the high school, Reeves said they have been safely housing up to 175 people without having to turn anyone away.

COVID-19 prevention measures recommended by the CDC are being upheld at the Drop-In Center. According to Reeves, sleeping mats have been strategically placed six feet apart and everyone, staff included, has been given masks.

“There is a significant amount of social distancing happening, and people are generally following through with it,” Reeves said. “There are folks that chose not to, but we remind them that we reserve the right to ask them to leave if they’re choosing not to social distance.”

Whatcom Unified Command partnered with Lighthouse Mission Ministries to successfully move the Drop-In Center to Bellingham High School.

“This temporary relocation of the Drop-In Center is one of many actions being taken to achieve Whatcom Unified Command’s objectives, specifically to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to provide for the community's most vulnerable,” Amy Cloud, public information officer at Whatcom Unified Command, said in anemail.

Bellingham School District Assistant Superintendent Steve Clarke said that aside from a few complaints about the Drop-In Center’s new location, he has mainly seen a positive reaction.

“We've been working closely with the mission, both in terms of taking care of the building while they're there, [and] making sure it's secure and safe,” Clarke said. “When we eventually have students move back in … it will be thoroughly cleaned and ready for school.”

Clarke said that using Bellingham High School to house the Drop-In Center is a way to help take care of the community.

“It's impacting all of us in this community, and I think every life matters, including those that stay at the Drop-In Center,” Clarke said. “The goal was to keep them alive and healthy, just like we're all trying to stay alive and healthy.”

A significant amount of planning went into making the move successful.

“This sort of effort definitely takes an entire community to make happen,” Reeves said. “We had started meeting about it five days prior to it coming to fruition and that sort of turnaround is pretty incredible.”

Along with the COVID-19 outbreak came the closure of other outreach and support programs. The Homeless Service Center office can only be reached by phone and is no longer open for walk-ins.

Because resources and support are limited right now, Reeves said Lighthouse Mission Ministries is looking forward to the time when those become available again.

For community members looking to help those in need during this time, aside from donating financially, Reeves said one of the best things people can do is to educate themselves. 

“In people's own spheres of influence, we can all do work to help educate and raise awareness around the fact that the reasons people are homeless are as many of the number of people that are homeless,” Reeves said.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries is a faith-based organization that offers multiple different programs to help house those in need. For more information, visit their website.

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