Bellingham shelters open for those facing cold weather

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Additional shelters opened on Sunday night in Bellingham for Whatcom County residents experiencing housing insecurity in this week’s below-freezing temperatures and intermittent freezing rain and snow.

The shelters will continue to stay open if other shelters are nearing capacity and the expected overnight temperature is below 28 degrees, according to the Whatcom County health department. Precipitation and wind chill will also be considered if the temperature is slightly higher.

The city of Blaine does not currently offer services for people experiencing housing insecurity, said city manager Michael Jones.

Sarah Zaremba, crisis assistance director at the Community Assistance Program (CAP), encouraged people experiencing homelessness in Blaine to contact the Opportunity Council in Bellingham to seek shelter. Residents who need assistance paying for the bus can get ticket vouchers at the Blaine Police Department at 322 H Street or the Blaine Library at 610 3rd Street.

Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of The Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, expected 175 to 190 people to use the organization’s facilities this week, including a 40-person women’s winter shelter at Civic Stadium. The mission, which is located at 1013 West Holly Street, has a 24/7 Drop-In Center with breakfast, lunch and dinner provided daily.

“We’ll make room if we have to,” Erchinger-Davis said of the Drop-In Center, which has capacity for 150 people. “No one will be put out because of capacity restraints.”

Over 700 people are homeless in Whatcom County each night, according to the city of Bellingham. Erchinger-Davis said the number of people seeking shelter goes up about 20 percent in the winter.

Currently, organizations in Blaine like CAP don’t have the resources needed to address the growing demand of people in need, Zaremba said. CAP’s crisis assistance program gives monetary assistance, in the form of vouchers, to people who need short-term assistance for emergency lodging, groceries and utility bills.

“We try to help people in financial crisis. It’s minimal because we don’t have a huge budget,” CAP executive director and board president Dan DeMent said. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”

CAP also runs a community meal program and a clothing bank. If people were unable to attend the winter coat distribution in October, they can call CAP, where additional coats are usually available, Zaremba said.

DeMent estimated that 220 people were helped by the crisis team and 680 people benefitted from the clothing bank in 2019. January’s succession of the holidays makes it the most in-demand month for CAP, DeMent said.

The single-family transitional home in Blaine run by Grace Lutheran Church and Interfaith Coalition is currently being occupied, said Laura Harker, executive director of Interfaith Coalition.

The Emergency Winter Shelter Hotline has up-to-date shelter information at 360/788-7983. People who want to make donations or who are seeking assistance from CAP can visit its website at blainecap.org or call 360/392-8484.

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