County homeless agency buys Ferndale home

Published on Tue, Nov 23, 2010
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 The purchase this month of a single-family home on a lot in Ferndale zoned multifamily is the first step in a plan by Interfaith Coalition of Whatcom County to raise money for development on the property of a duplex.

When completed, the duplex will provide short-term housing to two families who are homeless in northern Whatcom County.  Until then, the three-bedroom home near Ferndale high school will provide safe, warm shelter to one family at a time for up to 90 days, beginning December 1.

Named “Our House,” the home will serve families of different compositions, with priority given to those with males over age 12, who would be separated from their families in a group-living situation; to large families who, like families with adolescent or adult males, have few housing options in the community, and to women and children escaping domestic violence. Up to six families a year may live in the home.

Volunteers from five Ferndale-area congregations – Zion Lutheran Church, Custer United Methodist Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Christ Lutheran Church, and United Church of Ferndale – are working to make the house a home by doing minor indoor and outdoor repairs and yard work, moving in furniture, stocking shelves and cupboards with linens and kitchenware, hanging pictures on the walls, and adding other decorative touches to make the home comfortable.

“This project is particularly exciting because Our House will help families in our actual neighborhood,” said Lydia Wittman Grebe, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church. “We’re not only responding to a Biblical mandate to love and care for people in need; we are also investing in our community and making it safe and welcoming for all who live here.”

A capital campaign with the goal of raising $250,000 will be launched in 2011 to pay off the $144,500 loan for the home, which was made by an individual to the coalition at a below-market interest rate, and to pay the cost of building onto Our House to create a duplex.

Interfaith Coalition will rely largely on donations of volunteer labor and expertise to keep expenses low while developing the duplex, much in the way the coalition constructed from the ground up its first housing units in 1995; a fourplex at Texas and Orleans streets in Bellingham.

Interfaith Family Housing

For the past three years, the coalition has rented an apartment in Ferndale to house families who are homeless in northern Whatcom County.

Our House replaces the rented apartment and is the ninth unit of housing in the coalition’s homeless housing network.  The remaining eight units are in Bellingham.

An integral element of Interfaith’s Family Housing Program is case management. Each family living at Our House will meet weekly with a case manager from Opportunity Council to work on objectives toward achieving the goal of moving out of homelessness into permanent housing. The case manager provides guidance, support, and linkages to community resources that may be helpful, such as health care, day care, job training and income sources.

The need

According to the 2010 Whatcom County Homeless Count, a point-in-time census of homeless residents conducted last January through the collaboration of more than 40 local agencies, there are at least 1,334 homeless people in Whatcom County, comprising 905 households.

Homeless families with children number 266. That’s 44 percent of the total homeless households, a higher percentage than the 37 percent reported nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sixty-two students enrolled in the Ferndale School District during the 2009/2010 academic year were homeless, and administrators expect the number will be higher this school year.

While most of households surveyed in the homeless count named Bellingham as the community where they last had stable housing for six months or more, the second highest number of households named northern Whatcom County – Ferndale, Custer, Birch Bay, Blaine, Lynden and Lummi Nation – as the community where they last had stable housing; presumably the community they consider home.