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The Ground Floor is space for youth to belong

Since the end of January 2019, about 25 homeless and at-risk young people come from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays through Fridays to The Ground Floor in the remodeled basement of First Congregational UCC in Bellingham.

The space for The Ground Floor is now filled regularly with young people who access services to move out of homelessness.     Photo courtesy of First Congregational UCC Bellingham

They come to this drop-in space to hang out, take showers, rest, use computers, join in activities, do laundry, address substance use, and access job training, vocational, educational, health, mental health, dental and housing services.

It is space for them to feel they belong, and are safe, heard and valued.

The church raised $1 million to redesign and renovate the basement.  It is continuing to raise funds. Church and community members donated, and they received grants and some assistance from the PNC Church Development funds.

 Northwest Youth Services offer the services for youth in Whatcom County. 

From December through February, they will host an overnight shelter for up to 35.

The young people also have access to clothing, nutritious food, cooking classes and supportive staff.

The church opened the 3,500-square-foot space as a day-use center last February

There’s space for the young people to spend time together and build self-reliance.

 Emerson McCuin, The Ground Floor’s coordinator with Northwest Youth Services, hopes see it as home

Members of First Congregational Church of Bellingham dedicated their space, time and funds to create the space.

Church members worked with Northwest Youth Services to design the space to be accessible and hospitable to young people.

The youth can develop supportive relationships and connect with community resources to help them find housing. Northwest Youth Services collaborates with other local nonprofits. 

“The partnership will draw us into many opportunities for generosity, service and systemic justice work alongside young people and their allies,” said David Weasley, pastor of youth, young adults and mission.

Church members help by driving to pick up food for breakfast a local hotel offers, provide in-kind donations and last summer cooked meals with vegetables local farmers donated, he said.

There are outreach services at schools and libraries, and there are events designed to meet youth where they’re at to build relationships and connections to resources. 

Emerson said that since 1976, Northwest Youth Services has offered programs to help thousands of youth progress.

While much in the community has changed since then, Northwest Youth Services’ commitment to support each youth has been constant. It believes that young people need to have a place to belong, to be safe, heard and valued.

They believe that adolescence is an important time of transition, and youth need and deserve compassion, encouragement and support.

“We want children and youth to be recognized and valued as a vital part of our community,” he said. “We advocate for changes in society to create a safe and healthy environment for children and youth. We also encourage youth to make their own choices for their own wellbeing, to honor their differences and to build on their strengths.”

Northeast Youth Services provides tools so youth can change and it advocates for their interests in their families and communities.

It also has a street outreach, emergency housing, transitional and permanent housing, behavioral health services, a vocational readiness program and a teen court for restorative justice and diversion.

David said he is part of the advisory task force as a representative of the church.

He steps in to see how things are going, but relies on staff to do the program. There are usually three staff there at any given time.

The church is glad to see so many nonprofit agencies interface with the youth in their space—local health care agencies, educational programs to connect youth with vocational schools or community colleges.

“I’m glad our congregation has stepped up to partner with Northwest Youth Services, because youth homelessness affects many people,” David said.

The program gives them cause to explore homelessness and have conversations with the community.

“I’m glad we stepped up to model one response to the crisis,” he said, adding that it has been a powerful way for the congregation to learn the realities, opportunities and challenges the young people.

“It has drawn us into more conversations about homelessness, its systemic causes and how housing policies need to change for people to experience justice.

“Rents are too high.  It’s hard to access housing.  There is need for more supportive housing for people with disabilities, mental health challenges and substance addiction,” David said.

“We are in a housing crisis and many people struggle to find a place to stay,” he said.

Other churches are hosting meals and hosting overnight shelters for the winter.

“This is a great fit for our congregation because we had space available in an unfinished basement we had used for storage.  It also has an external entrance,” he said.

A TV program’s overview of the space and its mission is at:

For information, call 360-734-3720 ext. 1105 or email


Copyright © Winter 2019-2020 Pacific NW United Church News


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