New Bethlehem Place provides 24-7 shelter for homeless families

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Homeless families moving into New Bethlehem Place will find a welcoming environment with an array of services to help them find permanent housing. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services Homeless families moving into New Bethlehem Place will find a welcoming environment with an array of services to help them find permanent housing. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

KIRKLAND – After nearly five years, two Eastside parishes have seen their dream of a year-round shelter for homeless families become reality.

The shelter, called New Bethlehem Place, is “going to make a huge difference in the lives of families who are struggling with homelessness,” said Andrea Liggett, pastoral assistant for outreach and social justice at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland.

Holy Family and St. Louise Parish in Bellevue helped spearhead the shelter efforts, partnering with Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Salt House Church in Kirkland, The Sophia Way program for homeless women, the city of Kirkland and others.

New Bethlehem Place, a program of CCS, can house 10 families (with children under age 18) 24-7 on the first floor of the newly constructed 19,000-square-foot building. The second floor is home to Helen’s Place, a day center and emergency shelter for 48 women operated by The Sophia Way. Together, the shelters are called Kirkland Place for Families and Women.

It took donations from faith communities, individuals, foundations and government entities to cover the $10 million cost of the project, according to Bill Hallerman, CCS agency director for King County.

“It’s been an amazing accomplishment of what can happen in our community when folks just work together,” Hallerman said during the livestream of the August 19 ribbon-cutting.

New Bethlehem Place, a 24-7 shelter for families, occupies the first floor of the new Kirkland Place for Families and Women. The $10 million project includes a shelter for homeless women on its top floor. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

Stepping up to help families

The opening of New Bethlehem Place is the culmination of a discernment process started by the Holy Family community in late 2014. As they explored ways to make a bigger impact through their community outreach, parishioners discovered the need for an emergency shelter for homeless families — at a time when more than 600 children in two local school districts were homeless.

As Father Kurt Nagel recounted in a 2018 homily, “the Holy Spirit guided us to Salt House Church,” a nearby Lutheran church with unused space. “We partnered with them and St. Louise Parish in coming up with a three-phase plan.”

The steering committee for the New Bethlehem Project aimed to open a day center for homeless families (none existed then on the Eastside), extend operations of a winter overnight shelter for families and build a permanent emergency shelter.

St. Louise parishioners Pete and Nancy Wright became members of the steering committee after volunteering at a winter shelter in Bellevue and deciding they wanted to do more to help families experiencing homelessness.

“I was just really taken by the number of children,” Nancy Wright said. “It just really got to my heart. Some of the children went to the same grade school as our kids.”

The plan becomes reality

The project’s first phase, the New Bethlehem Day Center, opened in 2016 in the basement of Salt House Church; Holy Family parishioners raised $420,000 of the cost, Father Nagel said in his homily. With the help of volunteers and staff, the center continues providing a welcoming place for homeless families where they can access essential services: showers, meals, laundry, on-site case management and a comprehensive network to help them return to permanent housing.

In 2017, a $125,000 donation from New Bethlehem Project allowed the Eastside emergency shelter for families — which rotated among different churches — to remain open through the summer and fall for the first time.

Fundraising for the permanent shelter began in 2018, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in April 2019, according to Rebecca Nightingale, communications and fundraising manager for CCS and a St. Louise parishioner.

New Bethlehem Project raised $1.5 million, exceeding the goal of $1 million for its share of the project cost, Nightingale said. A large portion of that came from Catholic parishes on the Eastside, especially Holy Family and St. Louise, she said. And St. Jude Parish in Redmond is donating its 15 percent share of parishioners’ donations to the Called to Serve as Christ campaign, she said.

Now the New Bethlehem Place shelter is giving families a secure place to call home while they work to find permanent housing, Nightingale said. With completion of the shelter, there is no more need for the emergency shelter, Liggett said.

Families living at New Bethlehem Place will sleep in beds, rather than mats on the floor, Liggett said. They will have access to case management and mental health services on site, Nightingale said, explaining the need to quickly connect families with resources so they can get on the path to permanent housing.

Families living at the New Bethlehem Place 24-7 shelter will sleep in beds rather than mats on the floor that were the norm at the overnight emergency shelter. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

The virtual ribbon cutting August 19 included a blessing by Father Nagel; St. Louise’s pastor, Father Gary Zender; and pastors from Salt House Church and First Congregational Church in Bellevue.

“Even as we are here because of a building,” Father Zender said, “our blessing … is spoken to the people who will be blessed by this building — all the people who will come to Kirkland Place, staff and volunteers, women, families experiencing homelessness, all of them.”

Although the steering committee’s initial goals are complete, Liggett said work continues to carry out the mission of New Bethlehem Place, including keeping volunteers and donors engaged to assist families in need.

The shelter, Pete Wright said, “gives us a place to become the hands of Christ and build the kingdom.”

Jean Parietti contributed to this report.