During a recent online discussion about the planned 5-fold expansion of Lighthouse Mission Ministries (LMM), I received this message from a Bellingham resident:
“Karen two years ago I was on a bus in San Diego while sightseeing. On the radio there was an add for the "light house mission in Bellingham Wa as a place that would help you if you needed it" I heard that add twice in a two day period on what ever radio was piped in to the busses. Definately not the place I expected to hear about Bellingham, WA…. [sic]”
This account supports demographic findings in the Whatcom County 2020 Annual Homeless Report and Mayor Fleetwood’s reluctant admission last winter at a Puget Neighborhood meeting that most unsheltered homeless living on the streets of Bellingham are NOT locals. This is further confirmed by countless anecdotal reports from police and first responders, and unsheltered homeless people themselves.
Skagit County to our south has NO low-barrier homeless shelter - none. Bellingham Lighthouse Mission (LMM)provides the sole full-time low-barrier shelter for all of Whatcom and Skagit counties; and the Mission apparently solicits “guests” from out-of-state (see below). These facts counter Bridget Reeves’ (LMM Assoc. Director) claim during the LMM May 26 Neighborhood Meeting, “People will move for a house or an apartment, but they won’t move for a shelter bed.”
Consider also Snohomish County (which includes Everett) has a total population 3.5 times larger than Whatcom County. Snohomish fairly manages its homeless population with one full-time low-barrier shelter of 250 – 300 service capacity. The Lighthouse Mission rebuild proposes 500+ service capacity – this is twice the homeless shelter capacity for Whatcom, whose population is a quarter that of Snohomish. Also, the Snohomish County low barrier shelter is located in Everett near I-5 and away from the city center. Why are Lighthouse Mission and COB proposing an oversized low barrier homeless shelter in a mixed residential central city neighborhood?
Base Camp - Lighthouse Mission’s Low-Barrier Homeless Shelter
Base Camp is the low-barrier/200+ capacity homeless shelter on Cornwall Ave./Flora St. run by Lighthouse Mission Ministries. Prior to the COVID pandemic, their homeless shelter was the Drop-In Center at 910 W. Holly. LMM plans to double Base Camp’s capacity and include it in the rebuilt facility on W. Holly.
A neighbor and I recently called LMM to inquire about their services. Polite residents confirmed that the low-barrier Base Camp serves anyone from anywhere as space allows, and “guests” arrive from as far away as Georgia. They also reported 20 – 40 men and “about that many” women/children in residential programs on W. Holly, and 150 – 300 “guests” served daily at Base Camp on Cornwall Ave.
Whether the unsheltered homeless originate from near or far, whether or not they join Mission restorative programs, whether they spend nights in Base Camp or on our city streets, Base Camp offers them three meals a day, showers, laundry, internet, and indoor daytime socializing. Many shelter clients elect to spend their days and nights between meals out on the streets, parks, and greenways of Bellingham’s core business and residential neighborhoods. Assaults and property crimes substantially increase in adjacent neighborhoods wherever the low-barrier shelter is located; these criminal activities will likely increase proportionately to the Mission’s planned expansion.
Funding Lighthouse Mission Ministries
Funding for Lighthouse Mission Ministries was also misrepresented at the May 26 public meeting. Hans Erchinger-Davis, LMM Director, assured everyone that LMM is “purely” privately funded and accepts no government funds. Fact is, Lighthouse Mission Ministries pays no property taxes on its multiple city properties. Bellingham tax payers provide LMM all soft and hard infrastructure services, including police/fire/social/public health/COB administrative and municipal services, and public works for streets/lights/sewer and storm water. The several hundred high-needs LMM clients from near and far require an inordinately high amount of our public services.
Turning the screw on Bellingham citizens at the 5/26 meeting, Tara Sundin (COB Planning & Community Development) informed us that COB is “a partner with the Lighthouse Mission,” having provided them property and funding to establish Base Camp. For their proposed expansion on W. Holly, COB plans to provide LMM substantial hard infrastructure upgrades usually paid by developers.
COB’s partnership with Lighthouse Mission for their planned expansion and redevelopment begs the question of who is advocating for the public health and safety of Bellingham’s core neighborhoods? Ultimately, for the well-being of all Bellingham? And who is assuring cost-effective use of our citizen paid taxes for the greatest good of Bellingham residents? In fact, Bellingham citizens are subsidizing Lighthouse Mission Ministries with our tax revenues and with our neighborhoods’ health and safety.
Low Barrier Homeless Shelter Should Be Located Outside City Core
It now behooves Bellingham residents and businesses - especially those in core Bellingham neighborhoods as City Center, Old Town, Lettered Streets, Columbia, Cornwall, and York - to be informed about the proposed LMM Redevelopment Plan and demand that COB decide this project based on public health and safety of our citizens. Also, any redevelopment of Lighthouse Mission Ministries should be sized to serve Whatcom County needs and guided by ending, not growing, our unhoused population.
LMM plans to submit their development permit application to COB within the next couple weeks, likely mid-October. The public hearing and COB decision about the permit will likely occur in mid to late December – perhaps during the holiday season which usually assures low public participation (coincidental or planned?).
Written public comment can be submitted now and at any time in the permitting process; direct your comments to COB Planning, your ward council member, and Mayor Fleetwood. Then watch for the coming notifications of the LMM permit application submission and public hearing. Now and during the coming weeks is the time to express concern for the health and safety of our core city neighborhoods and ultimately all Bellingham: ask that COB not allow Base Camp to be oversized and returned to W. Holly or any core city location.
All Bellingham neighborhoods will be negatively impacted if our city core is sacrificed to a large low-barrier homeless shelter in Old Town. Bellingham citizens must act now – NO LOW-BARRIER HOMELESS SHELTER IN THE CITY CORE - or forever hold your peace in an increasingly dangerous and declining city.
You can view the video of the May 26 “Neighborhood Meeting” that didn’t invite the neighborhood here:
This link is for the DropBox registration/sign-in page that provides the first hour of the project presentation. To view the full 2 hours Q&A and confirm my earlier credits, download the video option on the DropBox page.
“Neighborhood Meeting” attendees seemed mostly from outside Lettered Streets Neighborhood, and less than half the dozen or so public speakers were from Lettered Streets. The purported Lettered Streets Neighborhood Association did not inform their own neighborhood about the meeting. Bellingham needs a Department of Neighborhoods to provide citizens a representative voice in City Hall about neighborhood developments (see “Who’s Running Your Neighborhood Association? And Why Care?”).