Last January during a bitter cold snap, we told you about the opening of The Ground Floor, the Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) day shelter located at First Congregational Church in Bellingham. The 3,500-square-foot space was an especially welcome and warm new space for unsheltered youth that chilly day.
“It’s become a very relational and safe place for youth, said NWYS Executive Director Emilio Vela, Jr. “There’s always food available, and the youth have found good connections.”
The Ground Floor — which includes a kitchen, showers, laundry (free) and quiet rooms as well as access to a variety of services for youth ages 13-24 — operates rent free as part of its agreement with First Congregational, which raised $1 million to design and build the space. RMC designed the Ground Floor to feel safe and inviting, with warm wood finishes, an earthy palette and as much daylight as possible.
“It’s going better than we’d ever dreamed,” said Pastor Sharon Benton. “We don’t have a lot of interaction but it’s clear that the young people want to be there.”
Neighbors have been pleasantly surprised, said Benton, noting that many had misgivings before the shelter opened. “We have all these imaginings that we don’t want things in our area and those things aren’t happening. When these young people get shelter in ways that are supportive, it’s just not problem.”
The only problem at this point? “It’s getting increasingly difficult to shut the door each day,” said Vela. Right now, thanks to support from the City of Bellingham, NWYS keeps The Ground Floor open Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 2 PM.Especially with the wet, cold season upon us, the organization would prefer to keep the Ground Floor open 8-10 hours a day, and potentially a weekend day as well.
For that, NWYS needs to raise about $200,000, which would cover additional staffing, including a volunteer coordinator, as well as supplies and other overhead expenses.
“I have no words to express how impressed I am with First Congregational, said Vela. “They have a heart for these youth. I just love what they’re doing and appreciate it so much.”
The Ground Floor was featured on Q13 last spring.