Church leaders, local elected officials and volunteers gathered at Salt House Church in Kirkland last week to celebrate the opening of the New Bethlehem Day Center.
The center provides homeless families with access to food, laundry, computers and social services to help them get back on their feet. Whereas most shelters only allow women and children, New Bethlehem also allows men to enter. The only requirement for entry is that there’s at least one adult and one child per family that comes to the center, as it is strictly for families only, according to Volunteer Coordinator Laura Sabine.
Before the grand opening, in the first two weeks of the center being open, New Bethlehem has served five different families, offering them the opportunity to take a shower, do some laundry, sit down for a meal together, do homework and just relax, Sabine said, adding it was nice to see some of the worry evaporate from the parents’ minds. “They know their kids are safe, they know they’re having fun,” she said.
Due to the center’s limited space and the needs of the families using the center, Sabine said the best items to donate are cash and gift cards for gas, food and other essentials. The snacks and meals are also provided through donations from individuals, groups and businesses. They must be prepared offsite but can be rewarmed if necessary in the center’s kitchen. To coordinate donations to the center, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The center is two years in the making for its organizers, which includes the Salt House, Holy Family Parish in Kirkland, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland, St. Louise Parish in Bellevue and Catholic Community Services (CCS).
“In December 2014, (Holy Family) Pastor Kurt Nagel really felt the need to get involved with homelessness on the Eastside,” Andrea Ligget, pastoral assistant for outreach at Holy Family, said.
The 2016 One Night Count found 4,505 people living without shelter in King County, and several hundred students in the Lake Washington and Bellevue school districts have been identified as homeless. To identify the needs of the homeless people in the area, Ligget said they interviewed homeless people in the area and determined a day center for whole families (men included) would be a useful resource.
When the parishoners at Holy Family heard Salt House’s lower floor was unfinished, they reached out and teamed up to turn the space into a day center for families with the assistance of other local churches and organizations. “It’s been a very great connection,” Ligget said.
At the grand opening on Nov. 16, Salt House Pastor Sara Wolbrecht and other faith leaders blessed the various areas of the center, from the showers to the children’s play area to the center’s staff and volunteers, with dedicated prayers, readings of Bible passages and the lighting of candles.
CCS Agency Director Bill Hallerman and Kirkland City Councilmember Toby Nixon were among those who spoke at the grand opening.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful day,” Hallerman said. “(This project) has brought our faith communities together to do something that none of us could do on our own.”
Nixon shared a story about his family almost being homeless when he was a kid.
“For a 10-year-old boy, it was an adventure,” he said. “As I got older, I realized how close to the brink of homelessness we were.”
He added he was thankful for all the assistance his family received and that he is paying it forward now by helping address the needs of homeless people on the Eastside.
“Many gaps still remain; we can do better,” Nixon said. “We look forward to working side by side with you.”
So far, nearly 300 volunteers have undergone training to volunteer at the day center.
“We had hundreds of hours of volunteering even before the center opened,” Ligget said. For more information about volunteering at the center, email email@example.com.
The center is open from 2 to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, including holidays. For more information about the New Bethlehem Day Center, visit nbpshelter.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.