The site is being called the temporary Base Camp to accommodate those in homelessness in Whatcom County, but it could be used for up to four years until a new structure is built in Old Town of Bellingham. (Courtesy photo/Lighthouse Mission Ministries)

Bellingham, Whatcom County partner on set-up costs

  BELLINGHAM — Lighthouse Mission Ministries will continue to shelter people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic after the Bellingham City Council on June 16 approved a lease at a new downtown location.

  The Lighthouse Mission will move its Base Camp, formerly known as the Drop-In Center, to the former Bellingham Public Market at 1530 Cornwall Ave. by July 15. After three months at Bellingham High School, the Base Camp needed to move again as the high school prepares to reopen for students this fall.

  Under the direction of the Whatcom County Health Department due to the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that Base Camp will not be able to return to its original location for the foreseeable future, according to the Lighthouse Mission.

  Nearly 600 unique individuals have come to Base Camp needing a safe place to sleep since the pandemic began in March, with 160-170 people being housed each night. If Base Camp were to return to 1013 W. Holly St., over 110 people would have to be turned away each night in order to comply with CDC guidelines for homeless shelters. The Lighthouse Mission’s temporary Base Camp needs enough space for all who are seeking shelter and space for guests to practice social distancing.

  Hans Erchinger-Davis, Lighthouse executive director, in cooperation with Whatcom Unified Command, identified multiple potential temporary site locations and conducted a feasibility study on each to narrow the choices. This 25,106-square-foot space is currently empty and was last leased by Terra Organica. The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County are partnering with Lighthouse Mission to prepare the building to house people.

  “We acknowledge the impact this will have on the surrounding neighborhood. We are working hard to be good neighbors. I am so grateful for our Bellingham and Whatcom County community, all of you who have such high care and concern for our neighbors who are homeless,” Erchinger-Davis said.

  The public market building is available for up to four years, which gives the Lighthouse Mission enough time to construct a new, permanent location in Old Town, he added.

  All of Base Camp’s usual services will continue at this new temporary location, including free breakfast, lunch and dinner, 24/7 shelter, showers, restrooms, laundry services, support from staff and volunteers, resource referrals, and prayer and Bible studies.

  “We’re grateful for the support of our community,” Erchinger-Davis said. “You enable us to care for our most vulnerable neighbors and protect our broader community during this pandemic.”

  Anyone who needs a place to stay or a meal is welcome. The new temporary Base Camp location has space for up to 200 adults.

  “It is in the best interest of our unhoused neighbors and Whatcom County in general for there to be another temporary location in place to shelter and care for these vulnerable neighbors. We don’t want to have to turn anyone away because of capacity restraints,” Erchinger-Davis said.

  The facility has a dedicated nighttime sleeping space and a community room for day use and eating meals. The Lighthouse Mission will rent shower and laundry facilities. A large outdoor patio space will be fenced so people can spend time outdoors on the property.

  The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have committed funds toward the cost of getting the building ready to serve people. Lighthouse Mission Ministries will re reimbursed for modification costs. The mission will continue to rely on donations to cover the expenses of daily operation. Expenses are expected to increase at this new temporary facility to about $500,000 a year.

  The Lighthouse Mission and its guests say they are very grateful to the Bellingham School District for partnering the past months to house people who are homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  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.

  Lighthouse Mission Ministries has been helping people who are homeless since 1923. It serves more than 300 hot meals daily and provides shelter for up to 250 men, women and children each day. To make a donation or learn more about services, call 360-733-5120 or visit