New $4 million facility to offer services for Whatcom County residents experiencing homelessness

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A new $4 million facility to help provide services to those facing homelessness in Whatcom County has been announced by Unity Care NW, Opportunity Council, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and the Whatcom County health department. 

The organizations announced plans for the facility in an April 27 joint media release, after the state legislature approved its final capital budget.

Sharon Shewmake, a state representative for the 42nd legislative district, made the request to fund The Way Station.

The Way Station will offer a range of services to those experiencing homelessness, including access to basic hygiene, such as showers and laundry facilities, healthcare services provided by Unity Care NW, as well as case management and housing services through Opportunity Council.

The facility will “repurpose” what is now the health department’s community health building at 1500 North State Street in Bellingham. Rachel Lucy, PeaceHealth’s director of community health, said she expects renovations to begin before the end of 2021.

Shewmake was credited by the organizers as fighting for the $4 million to fund the endeavor in this year’s state budget.

“The project hits it all,” Shewmake said in a statement, “housing, caring for community, saving money and helping to get people better and in housing.”

Whatcom County executive Satpal Sidhu praised the new site and the community initiative to run the facility.

“Our partners have been instrumental in building momentum to get this project off the ground,” Sidhu said in the media release. “I also greatly appreciate our legislators’ efforts in Olympia to secure state funding that, together with local resources, will help us address a gap in services for the unhoused.”

The Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness, a group that consists of officials from the city of Bellingham, the Whatcom County health department and the Whatcom Homeless Service Center at Opportunity Council, conducts an annual point-in-time count of the number of unhoused individuals in Whatcom County on a single night.

The last published count, which was conducted in January 2020, counted 707 homeless people living in Whatcom County, a 1 percent increase from 2019’s count, but a 17 percent overall decrease since 2008.

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