basecamp

The work of Lighthouse Mission Ministries in Bellingham is a primary point of addressing homelessness in Whatcom County. (Courtesy photo)

It will be there 3-4 years until permanent site is created  

BELLINGHAM ­— On July 17 Lighthouse Mission Ministries moved its Base Camp (formerly the Drop-In Center) for sheltering people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic to 1530 Cornwall Ave. in downtown Bellingham, where it will operate for up to four years while a permanent location is selected and developed.

After four months at Bellingham High School, the Base Camp needed to move as the high school prepares to reopen for students. Under the direction of the Whatcom County Health Department due to the pandemic, it became increasingly clear that Base Camp couldn’t return to its original location at 1013 Holly St. because it didn’t have enough space for all who are seeking shelter and space for guests to practice social distancing, according to the Lighthouse Mission.

“We are tremendously grateful to the Bellingham School District and Bellingham High School for allowing us to use their facilities,” said Hans Erchinger-Davis, ministries executive director. “Nearly 600 unique individuals have come to Base Camp needing a safe place to sleep since the pandemic began, with 160-170 people being housed each night. If Base Camp was still on Holly Street, over 110 people would be turned away each night in order to comply with CDC guidelines for homeless shelters.”

Base Camp now is in the 25,106 square feet of space of the Bellingham Public Market, which had been unoccupied for two years and was previously leased by Terra Organica. 

“We have received amazing downtown support and are working together to address concerns of neighboring businesses and residents,” Erchinger-Davis said. “We have developed resources to offer local businesses and are hiring for a Downtown Resource Coordinator. If people or businesses have any concerns about Base Camp, they can email basecamp@thelighthousemission.org or call 360-483-9561 to speak directly with Loran Zenonian, director of advancement, for the time being.”

The Public Market building will continue to be available long enough to give the Lighthouse Mission time to construct a new, permanent location in Old Town, he added.

All of Base Camp’s emergency services will continue at this new temporary location. The 24/7 enhanced shelter offers: free breakfast, lunch and dinner, restrooms, laundry and shower services, resource referrals, case management, a cafe, voluntary prayer and Bible studies, and emotional and spiritual support from staff and volunteers.

Anyone who needs a safe place to stay or a meal is welcome at Base Camp, and services are offered without discrimination, Erchinger-Davis said. 

“By maintaining social distancing and health practices, this move benefits our entire community,” he said. “We haven’t had a single guest who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

The new temporary Base Camp location offers space for up to 200 adults to get a good night’s rest and to spend the day. This facility has a dedicated nighttime sleeping space and a community room for day use and eating meals. Showers and laundry facilities have been installed, as well as a large privacy-fenced courtyard so people can safely spend time outdoors on the property.

“Colacurcio Brothers Construction and the City of Bellingham have done an amazing job to complete this in just a few weeks,” Erchinger-Davis said.

The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County committed funds toward the cost to modify the facility and get the building ready. Lighthouse Mission Ministries will continue to rely on private donations from individual supporters to cover the costs of Base Camp’s daily operation. Expenses are expected to increase at the temporary facility to about $700,000 a year.

There are no religious requirements for guests to receive any services offered at Base Camp. Lighthouse Mission maintains its identity and values as a Christian organization with its mission of healing homelessness through Christ’s power and love. “We are excited to continue the life-saving gospel work of caring for our friends and neighbors who are homeless at this new temporary location for Base Camp,”  Erchinger-Davis said. 

Lighthouse Mission Ministries has been helping people who are homeless since 1923. It cares for up to 310 people each day and provides a continuum of services aimed at ending homelessness through street outreach, enhanced shelters, addiction recovery, Christian programs and aftercare. To make a donation or learn more, call 360-733-5120 or visit www.thelighthousemission.org.