KIRKLAND – Two homeless families — one with three adults and five children, the other a dad and his child — were already waiting when the New Bethlehem Project Day Center opened its doors for the first time Nov. 6.
Since then, the Eastside’s year-round family day shelter has averaged 30-35 visitors each day; on Thanksgiving, 47 adults and children came to the center.
“There are Eastside residents who are homeless and need access to services. We just can’t keep sending them to Seattle,” said Andrea Liggett, pastoral assistant for outreach and social advocacy at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland.
Responding to that need, members of Holy Family Parish initiated the idea of a family day shelter in their community. They were joined in the effort by St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, Salt House Lutheran Church in Kirkland and Catholic Community Services of King County.
Salt House Church members painted these rocks during a worship service, leaving them along a pathway to welcome day center guests. Photo: Michele Ahearn
Parishioners at Holy Family and St. Louise raised nearly $500,000 to create the day center at Salt House Lutheran, an outreach that is being operated by CCS with the help of hundreds of volunteers.
The lower level of Salt House Church, on Northeast 80th Street in Kirkland, has been transformed into a warm, welcoming place for up to 50 adults and children. Families can spend the afternoon and evening hours at the center before heading to an overnight winter shelter or even spending the night in their cars. At the center, they can do homework, eat a hot meal, work on computers, take showers, do laundry and access social services.
In designing the day center, it was important that families didn’t need to make an appointment to get services, Liggett said.
So the New Bethlehem Project is open for walk-ins from 2-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, helping parents deal with those after-school hours that can be the “most chaotic” for homeless families, said Bill Hallerman, agency director for CCS in King County.
Family homelessness is an ongoing issue in King County, Hallerman said, with 900 families on a waiting list to get housing assistance. Although there are day programs on the Eastside for singles and youth, there hasn’t been a center catering to homeless families, he said.
Bill Hallerman, agency director for Catholic Community Services in King County, speaks during the Nov. 16 dedication of the New Bethlehem Project Day Center. CCS is operating the center with the help of volunteers. Photo: Michele Ahearn
The family day center, blessed and dedicated Nov. 16, is the first of three phases for the New Bethlehem Project, Liggett said. Salt House and CCS signed a three-year lease for the day center; the money raised so far has covered the remodeling costs and will pay for the first year of operation.
“I’m just grateful for all the people who see the need,” said Father Kurt Nagel, Holy Family’s pastor, who attended the blessing, along with Father Gary Zender, pastor of St. Louise, Pastor Sara Wolbrecht of Salt House Lutheran and Pastors Michael Anderson and Katy McCallum Sachse of Kirkland’s Holy Spirit Lutheran Church.
It took two years from idea to fruition for the day center, Father Nagel said. The next step is expanding operations so the shelter is open eight to 10 hours, seven days a week. The third phase is opening a year-round overnight shelter; currently, overnight shelters on the Eastside are open only during the winter months.
So far, 300 people have signed up to help at the day center, said volunteer coordinator Laura Sabine, a Holy Family parishioner. Applicants must go through background checks and training before they can volunteer, she explained.
With so many people willing to get involved, a successful fundraising campaign and the Salt Church space becoming available, Sabine pointed to the biggest influence for the center’s successful start.
“Certainly you can see God’s hand in it all along the way,” she said.
Families find a bright, welcoming environment at the New Bethlehem Project Day Center, where they can eat a hot meal, do laundry, use computers and do their homework. Photo: Michele Ahearn
Help homeless families
Fundraising continues to make sure the New Bethlehem Day Center remains viable after its inaugural year. Plans call for expanding the hours and days of operation and building a year-round overnight shelter to meet the needs of homeless families on the Eastside.
The New Bethlehem Project Day Center is located at 11920 N.E. 80th St., Suite 100, Kirkland.