Project Homeless Connect, the Experience of a Volunteer Guest Guide

Photo Credit: United Way of Whatcom County

BY HEATHER BATES
Community Engagement Intern at Lydia Place | heatherb@lydiaplace.org

Each year, our community puts together a one-day event called Project Homeless Connect where those in need of housing, and other critical care, can receive services free of charge in one centralized location. Project Connect partners with dozens of local organizations to provide on-site services like general medical, dental, vision, reproductive health, foot care, counseling, social security and identification services, legal assistance, housing program screening, education access, employment assistance, haircuts, clothing, basic supplies, pet care and more. This year I had the pleasure of attending the event as a volunteer Guest Guide on behalf of Lydia Place.

Arriving bright and early on the morning of the event, I was unsure of what to expect. A full and silent parking lot at Bellingham High School gave way to an audible buzz as I approached the main building. Walking in, I passed through a thick line of people that ran from the entrance, along the side of the building and down the block. The line twisted and turned to accommodate the large number of bodies. Many attendees carried with them, everything they owned. Some Project guests were entertaining small children and some were talking with neighbors, while others slept in line. In the background, a local musician played a double standup bass, entertaining the guests in line with his singing and dancing. Over 515 people stood, sat and laid in this line while 300 volunteers readied the inside. Of the 515 people waiting, 371 were actively homeless.

Many guests knew exactly what services they wanted however, some needed guidance to select the services that best fit their needs. As Guest Guides, our purpose was to bridge that gap and serve as personal helpers to our guests. Our goal was to make them feel comfortable, cared for and make sure they had an opportunity to receive the services they came for especially, since some high-demand services fill quickly.

As the Project opened, I stood outside with a sea of volunteers. I chose to stand up front to await the first guests in line. The line began to move toward us. Some guests looked up and immediately connected with a volunteer whom they felt comfortable with. I waited. A gentleman in his fifties with a large grin passed by me, shaking hands with a man standing behind me. I waited. A few others had shuffled through by the time I made eye contact with Valerie.

In her sixties, she walked under her own power although it was clear that she could benefit from a cane. Valerie and I shook hands while walking at her pace. She explained that her knees and joints were inflamed but she made sure I understood she could handle the pain on her own. She needed vision services; her glasses had become less effective over time and she needed a new prescription. I was able to get her registered and in to see a doctor within fifteen minutes of entering the building. She turned and asked me to wait for her. I agreed.

While Valerie received a total eye exam and refraction, I inquired about her next health need with the hearing clinic. Soon after, Valerie was given a new prescription and a date to pick up her brand new glasses, free of charge. We moved on. She explained in great detail, the hearing problems she had been experiencing and was admitted to a hearing test. Again, I went to inquire on her next medical need this time, with the foot care clinic.

The foot care clinic was a very different place in comparison to the previous medical clinics. Foot care was experiencing a high volume of severe cases, and many guests in this clinic area were struggling to walk. As we waited for Valerie to be admitted, a man approached whose feet were so swollen and blackened that he was afraid to have them touched. His feet were his only mode of transportation and his pain was now limiting his ability to find food. In the time that I waited for Valarie, several people approached in similar condition. One guest appeared to have torn his own shoes open in an attempt to make room for the swelling.

Foot care sent Valerie back to medical. She was in need of further medical investigation. We spoke with several people in the medical clinic, attempting to locate the correct nurse for her to speak with. Since all the providers who attended the project were donating their time, some could only serve half days. The specialist who Valerie needed to see had left so we worked to get her a referral for another day.

Lunchtime had come and gone and Valerie was getting hungry. Project Connect had a bustling kitchen downstairs which was ready to serve guests. The kitchen service ensured that guests were able to stay on site and continue to receive services rather than have to leave to eat. As we headed to lunch, Valerie told me she had a friend waiting for her. A young man, was sleeping in her small car packed with her belongings, outside. She knew he would be hungry too and so, I suggested that we ask for a “to go” box from the kitchen staff.

We walked to deliver the “to go” box of food to her friend. She told me he had been “too proud” to come inside and had elected to simply wait for her instead. He was on his own, young and struggling. When we arrived at Valerie’s car, she was visibly distressed to find that he was no longer there. She attempted to call him, but the call went unanswered. Valerie became increasingly worried, telling me that he calls her “mom” and she fears that he may have wandered off. I asked his name. His name was Tien.

His name was memorable and easy to recognize. I knew it immediately. I told her he hadn’t wandered off; he had come in and volunteered! Tien, a very charismatic man, had introduced himself to me while I was waiting for Valerie to be discharged from the foot care clinic earlier in the day! Unable to locate Valerie among the large number of people, he had decided to contribute! I knew where he was working and led her right to him.

Tien had spoken to several project coordinators during his search for Valerie earlier in the day. They were both so happy to be reunited, that we ran downstairs to share the happy news! The three of us had a good laugh over the whole situation. As the day grew to a close, I began to walk around looking for other guests who needed guidance while Valerie wrapped up what she needed to accomplish. Tien stayed close to her side for the remainder of the time.

There was an emotional moment as we stood in the doorway at the end of the day. We shared hugs and parting words as if we had known each other for years. I knew I would probably never see either of them again but still, I consider them both friends. Valerie had shared her story of struggle with me throughout the day and Tien told me how she had saved him. Together, they had taken on their situation. I am so grateful that they allowed me to play a small part in their lives that day. For people like Valerie and Tien, the struggle is every single day, seven days a week. I will never forget these wonderful people or the Project Connect coordinators who worked so hard to put the project together and then, in the end, took the time to laugh with us as well.

 

 

 

Bell Tower Almost Ready To Open Its Doors With Open Arms

View of Bell Tower from the street.

Bells will be ringing!

Excitement and growth are springing up left and right at Lydia Place as we prepare to officially open the doors of our newly renovated residential floor at our Bell Tower Campus!

Bell Tower, a former church in the York Neighborhood, was acquired in September of 2016, and now houses our Parent Support team, Counseling team and Family Support team. In addition, the property features a 1,100 square foot dance and activity space that we rent to individuals and groups, and in the new few weeks, a permanent supportive housing program and residence for homeless families with very young children.

The remodel of the bedrooms, and the addition of the activity room, will be able to provide five mothers with a safe, secure place to call home and bond with their children in the crucial early stages of their

A placard inside one of our new bedrooms welcoming its next family.

development.  Bedrooms are available for “adoption” as a way to help defer costs of furnishing each space, and bring a true sense of  community connectivity, and home into the program.

 

If you would like to adopt one of our rooms at Bell Tower, contact shultziew@lydiaplace.org to get started.

In addition to providing a safe and comfortable space to live, families at Bell Tower will be provided with a variety of supportive services. These supports include our Parents as Teachers program that provides parents with the skills and resources to raise healthy, happy little ones, life skills classes, to one-on-one case management services that enable each and every person to reach their goals and ensure a bright and healthy future for themselves and their family.

Many individuals, groups and businesses have donated time and resources to the facility. These include Christ the King North County, Christ the King, Kiwanis Young Professionals, WWU, The Collins Family + Random Acts, The Bates Family, The McGrath Family, The City of BellinghamRawls Electric LLC, Walker Flooring and Interiors, and Crave Catering. Additional work parties and opportunities for involvement are still available, just email kylef@lydiaplace.org to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities.

The recently repainted basement of Bell Tower.

As a way to defer the facility mortgage, Lydia Place rents the beautiful dance and education space to groups for one-time and ongoing classes/ events. If you have an upcoming event and are interested in renting the Bell Tower Community Center, please contact belltowerrental@lydiaplace.org or visit our website at belltowercommunitycenter.com.

Don’t have an upcoming event, but still want to lend a hand? Join us this Saturday, April 22 from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm for an Earth Day garden party at Bell Tower! Contact kylef@lydiaplace.org to learn more and sign up!

 

 

Emily O’Connor named ‘Wonder Woman’ by Bellingham Alive!

Executive Director Emily O’Connor celebrated her 5 year anniversary with Lydia Place April 5, 2017.

She might not wear a cape to work every day, but that didn’t stop Lydia Place Executive Director Emily O’Connor from being named our very own Wonder Woman in an article with Bellingham Alive! In the article O’Connor spoke about Lydia Place services, program development and balancing her work at Lydia Place with motherhood.

One highlight of the piece was the noteworthy increase of funds since O’Connor has been leading the way.

“O’Connor’s impact at Lydia Place has been substantial. Under her leadership, the budget has more than tripled, to $1.3 million,” the article by Bellingham Alive! stated.

The article also touched on O’Connor’s views on how to prevent homelessness.

O’Connor in the Lydia Place garden at Gladstone.

“O’Connor believes one way to prevent homelessness is to focus on children,” stated the Bellingham Alive! article. “In many cases, children who experience homelessness become homeless adults, so disrupting that cycle is key to prevent future generations from falling into the same trap.”

The publishing of the article could not have come at a more perfect time, as O’Connor celebrated five productive, growth filled and devoted years at Lydia Place on April 5.

To read the entirety of the article about all of the amazing work done by O’Connor at Lydia Place, click here.

Kafe 104.1 cares about community!

End of the Year Newsletter 2016

Empowering Lydia Place

Western Solar, itek Energy and Aslan Brewing Company to provide a solar power system to Lydia Place’s Baker Place property, is the largest project thus far that the groups have been involved.

The Bellingham Herald Presents: Highlights from Handbags for Housing 2016

Highlights from Handbags for Housing on Thursday, June 2, at Depot Market Square in Bellingham, Wash. Handbags for Housing is a fundraiser put on by Lydia Place to benefit homeless families in Whatcom County. The fourth annual event featured a handbag bazaar, auctions, belly dancing, a fashion show, wine and food.

Bellingham Nonprofits Creating Housing for Homeless, Abused Women

The Bellingham Herald – March 1, 2016:

Two nonprofits that help abused and homeless women are working together to provide more, and much needed, housing and shelter for them.

Lydia Place and Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County bought property in the Birchwood neighborhood and are renovating the three buildings on it to create housing in Bellingham.