By Mikel Johnson, HEN Housing Assistance Specialist, Whatcom Homeless Service Center

Eat for Opportunity

I am amazed by doers—those people who not only see a need but also take action to enact a solution. Take, as an example, the new partnership between the Whatcom Homeless Service Center and Bayou on Bay. Beginning in June 2017 and ongoing, Bayou is donating ten percent of its profits the first Thursday of each month to the WHSC to help formerly homeless individuals settle into their new apartments.

The Bayou Fund, as we’re affectionately calling it, will enable the purchase of household items such as furniture, bedding, bathroom items, kitchen necessities, and cleaning supplies. Often, when someone moves into their new apartment through a permanent housing program, they don’t have much to bring with them. Instead of an empty place, they can now have some belongings to make it immediately livable.

Andrea Northey, WHSC Street Outreach Specialist, often assists clients with move-ins. To her, “having someone walk into their unit with furniture and basic household items makes the place feel more like home.” Because of the Homeless Outreach Team and WHSC’s close work with many of the clients who move in through these permanent housing programs, items can even be tailored to the individuals’ tastes, preferences, and needs, amplifying the feeling that this new apartment is not just shelter, it is their home. “Seeing people’s reactions is so amazing,” says Andrea, “[it] shows how sometimes the little things are the big things.”

What inspires me most about the creation of such a practical solution is the manner in which the fund came about. Steve Crosier, as the owner of Bayou on Bay, felt that he wanted to do something to help members of our community who have experienced homelessness. He expressed this to Tom Day, WHSC Leasing Specialist, at Bayou one evening and Tom told him of a need that could be met. In the span of one conversation, two people came together to create a community-centered plan of action.

In addition to being a great resource for our community members, Tom sees the Bayou Fund, and the potential for other projects and partnerships like it, as an opportunity to build strong, positive relationships between Bellingham’s downtown businesses and our service providers and community members. Through such partnerships we create more than just practical solutions, we create relationships, foster community engagement, and community and cultural understanding. When we begin to create these relationships, those positive outcomes only multiply.

My hope is that those of you reading this will be inspired by the examples of Steve and Tom, that perhaps we will see a trend of creative, community-centered solutions. Or, at the very least, that you’ll stop by Bayou the first Thursday of every month and get yourself some tasty food and drink. Personally, I recommend the étouffée.