by Melissa Bird and Ashley Buerger
Editor’s Note: There are over 100 organizations in Whatcom County working to provide supportive ser- vices to those experiencing chronic poverty and its associated effects: ad- diction, homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, and unemployment. Whatcom Watch believes these orga- nizations often labor unnoticed by citizens — this column is designed to add daylight to their endeavors. We have contacted the organiza- tion appearing in this column and asked them to explain their mission. Because, in challenging times, being inspired and perhaps empowered by the acts of others is more important than ever.
Over 850 people are currently unsheltered in Bellingham, and these individuals often face a complex set of challenges that prevent them from accessing permanent housing. No one wants to live unsheltered, but many end up on the street due to the significant scarcity of affordable housing for those living with a fixed income or overcoming difficult life circumstances.
Navigating the housing system requires a person to apply with multiple agencies in the county while undergoing several assessments, asking time and again about their work history, barriers to housing, and sometimes painful details of a person’s life. All the while, these individuals are fighting every day to meet their very basic needs and live in a state of survival, which doesn’t do them any favors for their mental and physical health.
Things that may prevent a person from qualifying for housing include: the absence of an ID, medical debt, an eviction record, or even limited access to technology to get connected with services. Sometimes, individuals must call an agency weekly or monthly to remain on the list for services and have numerous appointments to manage with limited resources. Managing a complex system with multiple applications, waiting lists, and timelines can be difficult for the average person. Still, it is exponentially more difficult when your basic needs are not met, and warmth and safety are a luxury.
We believe that no one should have to navigate this system of services alone. People live on the streets, in the woods, under bridges, in business entrances, and in alleyways. What can we, as a community, do to create better alternatives? Road2Home was founded in 2019 to help reduce the suffering of individuals in our community by supporting our neighbors experiencing homelessness while they work towards their journey to permanent housing.
Programs and Projects
Road2Home has three primary programs: Volunteer training, Community Ally Program and Gardenview Village.
• Volunteer Training
While developing trainings for Road2Home volunteers, we realized much of it would benefit volunteers of any organization working with vulnerable populations and decided to share this with the greater community. We were honored to receive a Project Neighborly grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation, which allowed us to provide multiple live, online, three-hour trainings for anyone wanting to learn more about homelessness in Whatcom County.
This training covered Adverse Childhood Events, trauma-informed approaches, social justice while volunteering, mental health emergencies, local homeless resources, and more. We will be filming four videos with topics from our live trainings, with the support of our local Firehouse Café and Stiletto Rosso Productions, which will be available on our website this summer. The videos are intended for volunteers to view when they need a refresher or start their endeavor on the path of volunteering at any agency working with vulnerable populations. The more support the community can provide to our vulnerable neighbors, the stronger our community is as a whole.
• Community Ally Program
Our Community Ally Program aims to pair each participant with a community ally volunteer who has had training in local resources, trauma-informed approaches, and has the support of a Road2Home case manager. An ally is someone who will be there to listen, help navigate the system, and support individuals on their “road to home.”
By connecting volunteer allies with people experiencing homelessness, we can help folks build lasting connections and promote social inclusion for a population that often struggles with social isolation. Often, people experiencing homelessness lack support systems through work, family, or community that many take for granted. Sometimes, just knowing there’s someone who cares and will listen is enough.
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Road2Home’s volunteer Community Allies have worked with six clients, helping place four of them in temporary or emergency shelter and helping two find permanent housing. Our dedicated allies have helped clients with scheduling and transportation to Covid-19 testing, rental applications, access to laundry services, warm clothing, blankets, gloves and food, along with providing hope and showing someone that they have value in this society.
• Gardenview Village
We have also been busy planning Gardenview Village, a tiny home village that will be run in partnership with the Low Income Housing Institute and the city of Bellingham. While we will continue to build our community ally program for those living in the woods or on the street, we have found that, with the stability of shelter, people’s requests, wants, and needs shift from survival to personal advancement.
When individuals can escape from crisis mode by having a roof over their head and psychological safety in sleeping and storing personal belongings behind a locked door, it is then that they can begin to heal and focus on paperwork, applications, appointments, and all they need to do to obtain housing.
Gardenview Village will be opening late spring at the former Clean Green facility site on Old Woburn and Lakeway Drive. This community will open with 30 tiny homes, a community kitchen and dining space, storage, a hygiene trailer with flushing toilets and showers, a computer room, craft room, outdoor gathering spaces, and several garden beds throughout the village.
The village will have paid staff around the clock 24/7, as we intend to focus on those over the age of 55 or those who are medically fragile. We feel that having assistance available at all times of the day is essential for those we will serve and helps support our village, residents, and neighbors’ overall safety. Our campus will be drug- and alcohol-free, as we want to help support anyone in their sobriety, and all residents will have the support of a community ally in addition to case management to help them reach their goals and work towards permanent housing.
Road2Home and the Low Income Housing Institute are excited to join the Whatcom Falls neighborhood and meet our new neighbors. We hope to see the community at our events when it is safe to gather in groups. To keep updated on the village’s progress, visit the “Gardenview Village” tab on our website: www.Road2Home.org.
Do you want to help, but don’t know how? We always have various opportunities for folks to help in whatever capacity they are willing! You can sign up to be an ally, help with the construction and assembly of several tiny homes, help with gardening, or volunteer your skills as a community engagement liaison (event coordination, social media gurus, etc.). If you are interested in volunteering with Road2Home, visit our website for more information at www.Road2Home.org. Click on the “How to Help” tab and register to become a volunteer.
If you would like to support Road2Home by providing a donation, please visit our website at www.Road2Home.org and click on the “Donate” tab. If you would prefer to donate via check, our mailing address is: Road2Home, P.O. Box 3091, Bellingham, WA 98227.
Do you like to shop from the comfort of your own home? Well, you can support a local nonprofit while you shop through the AmazonSmile charity program! This program comes at no cost to you and donates 0.5 percent of your eligible purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. We would love to invite you to make Road2Home your organization of choice by clicking on the link at AmazonSmile: You shop. Amazon gives. Or by visiting our website and clicking on the “Donate” tab, click on the “Support Road2Home” Amazon Smile link to register with a few simple clicks!
You can also support us by signing up for the Fred Meyer Community Rewards program by linking your Fred Meyer Rewards card to Road2Home! You can search for us by name or by Road2Home’s Fred Meyer organizational code: FB442.
Contact and Social Media
For more information about Road2Home, please check our website www.road2home.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook by searching @Road2HomeWA.
Melissa Bird is board president and founder of Road2Home and Ashley Buerger is executive director of the organization.