Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hope House Now Open Wednesdays

As of January 20th, Hope House is now open five days a week. We've added hours on Wednesday afternoon to better accommodate our clients. Previously Hope House's only afternoon hours were on Fridays. Fridays tend to get swamped with clients.

Each day Hope House is open has its own character. We feel a little bit like parents baptizing a new child with our new day. What's it going to be like?

Wednesdays will be staffed by a dedicated mix of St. Paul's and Assumption volunteers who are already forming a top notch team.

Help spread the word that Hope House is now open five days a week!

Young Faces

Monday A young couple comes in through Hope House's red front door. "Hi, we're just here to see what you guys have."

He's got reddish hair and a scruffy look, wears a baggy black sweatshirt and a trucker hat. She's in a sweatshirt, too, the pregnancy is just beginning to show.

As the volunteer explains the general services available at Hope House, the young man is nervously checking out the window. "Hey, do you have a place to put our bikes?"

The couple have no car, nor a home as it turns out. They're worried someone will take their bikes parked outside, so the volunteer tells them they can bring them inside while they shop.

Their names are Danny and Sara. He's 18, she's 17, the baby is due in six months. They're not going to find out if it's a boy or a girl because they want a surprise.

Wednesday A young man came in through the red door. He stands in the waiting area and looked around quietly.

"What can we do for you?" asks the volunteer.

"I just need some diapers for my daughter," he says. His name is Mitch, thin face, thin build, thin dark beard. He's twenty-three and living at his mom's, with his 8 month old baby girl.

Friday Tristan comes through the red door wearing a fuzzy fur hat: broad cheeks and brown eyes beneath the fringe of black hair. There's a large red mark on his cheek.

"I'm camping out in Everson, and I could really use a chair." The volunteer got to talking with Tristan and pretty soon it came out that he could also really use a pot or, well, anything to cook with, and some utensils wouldn't be bad (he's been using a sharp stick), and he wouldn't mind a sleeping mat or something, but he already has a sleeping bag.

"I was in a pretty bad bike accident down in Seattle last year. Lost my job because I was in the hospital for a long time. Lost my apartment because of the medical bills. But I've got a line on some work in Alaska. It'll start in a month and a half." Until then, Tristan is camping out.

These are just a few of the new faces at Hope House. While the increase in clients has seen people of all ages and manners come through the red door, many of the new faces are young faces. Some have been homeless for years, some are just going through an extra tough month, some have no idea how they got here or where they are going.

But whether they are sleeping under a bridge, in a tent, at their parent's, in a motel, or are just barely hanging on to their apartment, Hope House's young clients are hard hit by the tough times. ♥

46% Increase in Clients

Hope House volunteers have lots of explanations for busy days. It's the end of the month, people have run out of social security money, it's sunny out, it's Thursday, it's Friday, it's Monday, it's Tuesday...well, you get the idea. Lately, Hope House has seen busy days every day.

Whether it is Friday or Tuesday, lines are forming outside the red door more and more often. The waiting room is almost always full, and the coffee thermos almost always in need of a refill.

In 2009, Hope House saw a 46% increase in clients. Hope House served 3,125 families (13,1333 individuals) in 2008. In 2009 we served 5,743 families (15,015 individuals). With this dramatic increase in clients, Hope House saw increases in all services provided.

Hope House gave out more of everything last year, including a 31% increase in hygiene items, a 26% increase in diapers, and an 18% increase in pounds of food provided to clients. As these numbers show, Hope House is finding and filling a niche, particularly with hygiene items and diapers. These items cannot be purchased with food stamps, are costly, are rarely available at reduced prices or free and are necessities. We are becoming one of the main emergency suppliers of hygiene items and diapers to all of Whatcom County.

Some clients are familiar faces at Hope House, who have been struggling for a while, and who need an occasional boost at the end of the month when funds are stretched. Some clients are new, from out of town or out of work. Some clients received help five or six years ago and have not needed Hope House again until now. In-take volunteers are digging up old records more often.

Hope House Street Outreach has witnessed a similar rise in need. In 2008, Hope House Street Outreach delivered an average of 40 to 50 lunches a week. In 2009, the average jumped to 65 lunches a week. Street Outreach vans are running out of sandwiches more quickly these days.

With Whatcom County unemployment at 8.1%, and having been over 7% since January of 2009, it is understandable that more people are in need of help. According to US Census estimates, over 15% of Whatcom County Residents live below the poverty line.

The good news is that donations are rising to meet the demand; miraculously, Hope House shelves remain stocked thanks to the generosity of our community. Volunteers worked 16% more hours in 2009 than in 2008.

Supported by volunteers and donations, Hope House is expanding to meet the rising need. We are now open on Wednesdays from 2 - 4:30. Hope House continues to rely heavily on donor support, receiving a large portion of its operating budget from generous donors. ♥

New Camp Outreach

Walking along a muddy trail, you spot a bit of blue between the naked winter branches. Wade through a marshy field, crawl over two fallen trees, duck beneath a wall of low-hanging limbs and you can see it: a tarp strung between three trees and tied to the ground to make roof and walls; several wooden pallets with blankets arranged on top of them. A few spare bicycle pedals, an empty gallon jug, a bundle of rope neatly tied, a pair of jeans hanging from a hook, the remains of a fire: this is a homeless home.

In January, the Street Outreach team connected with Whatcom County homeless, visiting camps, participating in the Whatcom County Point in Time (PIT) count, as well as continuing the Thursday night sandwich deliveries.

Volunteers Bonnie, Christine, John, Kathy, Sharon, and Theresa spent many days hiking into both occupied and abandoned camps all over the Bellingham area, delivering Project Homeless Connect Fliers, warm-meal availability info, and a few much needed gloves and socks.

Human Food Chain

Steam engines, hydraulic presses, water-pressure, even gravity--all of these conjure up a sense of unrelenting force, but the Human Food Chain has given Hope House another definition: 397 Catholic students.

Students from Assumption Catholic School form a human chain from the church altar to the Hope House shed, passing the over 2,000 cans of food raised in their annual food drive from hand to hand into the shed.

Things were a little crazy for the volunteers in the shed. Once the students begin passing the cans along, there isn't any way to stop the flow. Onward come the cans. The first graders slowed down with the fruit cans because they had the most interesting pictures and the seventh graders tried to toss the boxes of macaroni, but the food kept coming: chili, soup, beans and pork, canned corn, canned green beans, mac and cheese, crackers, peanut butter, tomato sauce, black beans, tuna and chicken.

The Human Food Chain is one of the several local food drives that provide Hope House with much needed food supplies. While Hope House is not a food bank, we are an emergency food supply for over 1,250 clients. Emergency food supplies are a one to two day supply of canned staples. Clients access emergency food supplies when other food resources are unavailable or when in a crisis situation.

Bigger by Leaps in Faith

"I'm always a little nervous the Sunday I talk to the parish about the Christmas Program. It's a lot to ask."

Every year, in early October, Hope House Director Cheri Woolsey tries to figure out how many families Hope House can sponsor.

"It's always a step in faith. We have to sign up families before we ask to the parishioners to sponsor them, so it's kind of like committing people to something without asking them."

In 2008, Hope House sponsored over 50 families through the Christmas Program, but in 2009, with the economy stumbling along and the headlines saying 'unemployment rising', Christmas looked grim.

"I knew it was going to be a hard year, it would be a challenge to get 50 families sponsored, but as I was praying about it, I just kept hearing a little voice asking, 'How big is your faith?'"

How big is Hope House faith? 60 families? Nope. 75 families? It's bigger than that. 90 families? Bigger still. In 2009, Hope House accepted 116 families through the Christmas Program.

So when Cheri got up to speak to the parish, she knew she was asking for a lot. She was asking parishioners to provide two gifts and a stocking per child and one gift for each parent as a minimum. You can understand that she was nervous.

Of course there was nothing to worry about. Assumption Parish sponsored almost all 116 families whole, which means individual families or groups in the parish took on the responsibility of giving Christmas to whole families in need. In addition, from tags put up on the Angel Tree in the gathering space during Advent, parishioners provided over 75 homeless with presents for Christmas.

However big Hope House faith is, it's clear that the faith of this community is even bigger. God is moving in the hearts of our community.

On behalf of the many families, the many little girls and boys, the many cold people for whom Christmas was going to look like just another rainy day, Hope House would like to thank all the generous donors who showed love to one another this Christmas. ♥

Project Homeless Connect: March 4, 2010

Hope House will have a booth at Bellingham's second annual Project Homeless Connect (PHC), held on March 4th this year.

PHC is an 8 hour event that provides free medical and vision screening, dental, mental health and DSHS services, Washington State ID cards, housing information, haircuts and pet care.

PHC is a national event which began in San Francisco in 2004. Currently there are more than 200 Project Homeless Connects in cities in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Dominican Republic.

Hope House was present at Bellingham's first Project Homeless Connect in 2009 where more than 575 people received services. At the first PHC, Hope House distributed individual-sized hygiene items donated by Haggen Food & Pharmacy.

We are looking for volunteers to help Hope House participate in this wonderful event. If you would like to volunteer please contact Phil Corrigan at 360.739.7217, or by email at

Our New Storage Shed

If you've ever been inside Hope House, you know that there's not a lot of room. Hope House really is a house: clients shop for baby clothes in what was the family room, volunteers hand out hygiene and food items from the kitchen, Emergency Assistance helps clients problem solve financial issues from what could have been a child's room, just to describe a few.

Hope House doesn't have a whole lot of storage space—in fact, all incoming donations are stored in a utility closet until volunteers sort them and put them out for clients. We like it this way. We believe that our donations are for our clients and keeping them in storage rarely achieves anything more than making donations smell musty.

But there comes a time in every organization when physical growth is a necessity. Serving over 12,000 clients a year, Hope House was in dire need of more space to store such vital necessities as diapers, canned foods, and hygiene items purchased in bulk. The Medina Foundations gift of a new, top-of-the-line, sturdy storage shed, came as a true God-send.

Already the storage shed sees as much use as anyone could expect of it. In November of 2009, the Assumption School Human Food Chain filled it to the brim with canned foods, and Praise 106.5's much-needed donation of diapers took up even the highest level of shelving. Although Praise's diapers were all given out within a few weeks, and Assumption School's food supplies are going quick, Hope House could not have accommodated these expanded projects if it were not for the vital space the storage shed provides.

It is practical gifts like the storage shed that are helping Hope House reach more and more members of the community with emergency basic needs services when they are most needed.
The Hope House thanks the Medina Foundation for the gift of realized potential. ♥