Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of Lighthouse Mission, recalls one woman who came in on occasion. “She never stayed long, only the night,” he says. She often slept in downtown Bellingham business doorways and occasionally showed up at the mission for a warm meal and a bed. This went on for over five years.
The woman seemed to have no desire to get off drugs – until the day when she doubled over with severe abdominal pain and was rushed to the hospital.
There she discovered the incredible. She was pregnant … and in labor.
She gave birth a couple hours later to a drug-addicted, newborn baby girl. CPS took the baby immediately, and the woman found a new purpose.
Everything changed. She now wanted to live a clean, drug-free life for her child. This time she showed up at the drop-in center with intention; she was dedicated to getting her child back. The Lighthouse Mission placed her in their Agape Home for women and into a recovery program. Six months later, she was allowed visitation rights.
“The woman was so joyous that she had her baby,” says Erchinger-Davis. “She now has her baby on the weekends and her visitation has grown. We see that a lot in the women’s shelter. Women lose their kids with CPS, then get [the opportunity] back; they get a shot at life again.”
Lighthouse Mission recently launched a Street Connect Program that has been very well-received in the community. The Street Connect van trolls the city looking for homeless in need of help. Staff build trust with often paranoid and marginalized people who have learned to distrust others during their oftens dangerous lives on the street. Staff and volunteers offer sandwiches, socks, water, blankets, hygiene items, a free ride to the shelter and – most importantly – friendship and a kind ear for those who need it most.
The new program has been a huge success and “that’s been a real joy to see,” says Erchinger-Davis. “Reach out – Invite in,” is their fitting tagline.
The new program has been so successful, they’re already expanding with a shower trailer. It will be called “Shower Connect” and will be hitting the streets shortly after Thanksgiving with two separate shower stalls, each with a toilet, sink and a charging station. It will be parked around town in church parking lots and onsite at the mission.
“We’re really excited about that,” Erchinger-Davis says. “It provides dignity to people who feel bad about themselves. We will be posting a schedule on flyers through Street Connect. We’re continuing to look for partners to host the trailer.”
Erchinger-Davis enjoys the immediate results. “People show up dirty and they come out all clean and smiling,” he says. He would like to compel new volunteers to help out with Shower Connect and, in so doing, “dispel a lot of myths around homelessness.”
The mission is focused on helping every aspect of the individual and providing tools for them to not only survive for the night, but become healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The Mission serves three meals per day and people are given the opportunity to access medical clinics, legal help, recovery services and employment classes.
“People don’t become homeless because they run out of resources,” says Erchinger-Davis. “They become homeless because they run out of relationships.”
One man worked with the mission for several years in his fight with addiction. One day, he confided to Erchinger-Davis that he hadn’t spoken to his daughter for 15 years. The man had never heard of social media and Erchinger-Davis immediately pulled his daughter’s profile up and showed the man her pictures. He then found out that he was a grandfather.
Erchinger-Davis helped him create a page of his own and connect with his daughter. Several weeks later, Lighthouse Mission bought the man a plane ticket to visit her in Los Angeles. Although he still struggles with addiction, he now has a new reason to strive for sobriety.
“Imagine how that feels; the loneliness, the worst of human emotions,” Erchinger-Davis says. “We’re going to love you no matter what. This relationship is for life. We’ll be here for you. That’s a powerful thing, to know that there’s always a home here.”
Erchinger-Davis and his staff are dedicated to the well-being and recovery of thousands of people every year. They tirelessly connect with populations that aren’t always easy to work with. The majority have alienated all others around them, due to past trauma, mental illness and addiction. Eighty percent of those who walk through the doors are mentally unwell. Staff welcomes them as they are and lovingly press on.
“We’re after the human heart,” says Erchinger-Davis. “What we really enjoy is seeing the transformation. This is a long-term solution. The goal is that when they move out, they’re a productive person, engaged in the community. They have their life back.”
The Lighthouse Mission is 100 percent privately funded by generous donors. They host one large fundraiser every year called “A Light in the Night.” The next one is coming up March 2, 2019. Buy your tickets early, as they always sell out.
The Lighthouse Mission welcomes a variety of donations and volunteer hours. New toiletries and catered leftovers are all lovingly accepted and passed on to the needy as well. They also accept these items, which help further their mission of uplifting those most in need.