Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County

Building community with Lydia Place and Wise Buys Thrift Store

Solving the housing crisis in Whatcom County requires creating innovative partnerships in Bellingham and across Whatcom County. The causes of housing insecurity are too many and too varied to be addressed by any one group, agency, or non-profit alone. Working together, we’re stronger.

To extend our reach, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County is actively developing new, dynamic partnerships in many areas — from our innovative work with the Whatcom Community Foundation, the Kulshan Community Land Trust, and the Telegraph Townhome Project, LLC, to alliances with the Opportunity Council, plus Lydia Place and their Wise Buys Thrift Store. Innovation comes from the passion, new ideas, and open hearts that we find in the dedicated professionals working at these vital community agencies.

Every new partnership brings new opportunities for us to test ways of breaking the “business as usual” cycle. With Lydia Place and their Wise Buys Thrift Store, we’ve found the perfect fit to help make both our stores run more smoothly and create the greatest opportunity to help the most people in need.

“We sell donated items,” said Rita Thames, Community Engagement Coordinator for Lydia Place. “So, all of our used donations for Lydia Place get filtered through our hub, Wise Buys. When you donate to Wise Buys, it’s just like donating to Lydia Place. All the proceeds from the sales at Wise Buys go to benefit our programs and services.

“Not only that, but our clients get vouchers to shop there, to pick out the items they need and want. If they need a new outfit for a job interview or a rug for their bathroom, it’s a low-cost way for them to get those items.”

The collaboration between the Habitat Store and Lydia Place is actually very simple. If you want to make a donation of gently used household items or furniture for sale to specifically benefit the work at Lydia Place, bring those larger items to our Habitat Store. Or, you can arrange with our Store scheduler for a pickup.

When you donate, simply tell our Habitat staff that you want the donation designated for Lydia Place. Then, when those items are inventoried, valued, and priced, Lydia Place’s account receives a store credit for that value. They can then pass a credit voucher along to their clients. (Habitat retains a third of the donation value to cover store and staff costs.)

Lydia Place clients can use the vouchers to shop at Wise Buys, or they can use them to shop at our Habitat Store for the larger household items they need.

“Habitat fills a void for us, because our store doesn’t have the capacity to take in furniture or large items,” added Thames. “Partnering with Habitat goes that extra mile for us, because people can’t have a healthy home life without a bed or a dresser, really essential items that we as an agency don’t have the capacity to store, display, or deliver.”

Like our Habitat Store, which provides program-sustaining funds for our affiliate, Wise Buys is more than just a fun place to shop. “Wise Buys is a huge program of ours,” said Thames. “It’s a volunteer program, it’s a vocational program, and we have interns. It’s a really diverse group of people, from high-school students up to retirees. We have about 50 volunteers at any given time running the whole store from top to bottom. People deserve an opportunity to build the self-fulfillment that comes from work.”

Wise Buys has 2 full-time staff members working in their store. “Dakota Nixon [pictured above] is our Volunteer and Operations Coordinator. Managing that many volunteers, as well as the comings and goings of the store, is a huge job and a huge responsibility,” said Thames. “The amazing thing about Dakota is her calm and collected attitude toward the craziness that is the store,” she says, laughing, “because there are so many donations coming in from the community, which is wonderful, but managing that many people and volunteers is no small feat.”

Solving the housing crisis means working across the housing continuum, from homelessness to supporting working families who simply can’t find affordable housing. Lydia Place takes on the daunting task of working in one of the most challenging areas, focusing on the county’s homeless population.

“Our clients are people experiencing homelessness,” said Thames. “People who want to get into our program first need to go through the Opportunity Council’s Coordinated Entry System. After going through the intake process with the Opportunity Council, they’re typically given a referral to agencies like ours, based on their needs.”

Lydia Place does the impossible: They get people off the street and into housing, serving more than 150 clients at any given time. “We actually have multiple campus housing units,” said Thames. “That’s one element of how we house our clients, like our Gladstone House, and our Bell Tower Campus, and Baker Place. All these are places that Lydia Place owns. We also have Chestnut House with WECU. And we have relationships with private property owners who are open to offering housing, as well as with the Bellingham Housing Authority. We have clients all over Whatcom County.

“The need far outweighs what we, as well as other agencies, can do,” said Thames. “There’s definitely a need for expansion. Everyone we serve has a case manager. For example, if they’re in our parent-support program, they’ll have a parent educator. If they’re in our mental-health program, they’ll have an on-site clinician that they’re working with.

“We’ve been lucky to expand our mental-health program this year,” she continued, “which is really new and exciting because it’s one of those services that, even for people who are well established and who have housing, is badly needed. It’s really hard to go through the referral process with insurance, going through all those steps, to actually get to talk to someone. If clients are dealing with any mental-health issues, we’re able to do more.

“Being able to open up our program and have mental-health clinicians on staff who are there to help our clients when they actually need it is really a great start and a new direction that’s addressing how big a role that mental health plays, especially for people experiencing homelessness,” said Thames.

Together, Habitat and Lydia Place are working to solve the housing crisis in Whatcom County.

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