October 18, 2018 Dena Jensen
In regards to homeless issues, it is lucky that we will be replacing County Prosecuting Attorney David McEachran this election season because he seems to be spreading a perspective about statistics regarding crimes involving “transients” in our community that is biased towards assuming the criminal intent of people who are traveling through Whatcom County.
Additionally there is a campaign ad that is recently circulating (I received one in my mailbox today) which echoes this perspective, but the allegation that “Bellingham is a magnet for homeless criminals” is directed specifically towards people experiencing homelessness. This campaign mailer was sent out by the Washington State Republican Party and displays on one side a “Personal Note from Senator Doug Ericksen,” that in part, contains this claim. The reverse side of the mailer repeats it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Senator obtained his offensive and destructive story-line from the Prosecutor.
At the October 9, 2018 Whatcom County Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting County Prosecutor McEachran gave his annual report. At around 22:20 on the audio of the meeting Mr. McEachran said that there had been an increase in the number of crimes committed by people he identified as “transients.”
“We’ve also had a huge number of transient people in our community that are creating serious problems as far as crimes. We’ve seen an increase in criminal cases committed over the past year.” Mr. McEachran said cases ranged from serious assaults to thefts to “just a variety of things.” He went on to say that when officers talk to people on the streets some individuals have said that they come to our area, “because services are really good in Whatcom County.” Additionally, he said, “We’ve had people report flyers showing up in states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona indicating that we have a Mission, we have people here that will provide meals, and it’s a very good place to come.”
Then, Prosecutor McEachran said some of the people he deals with have criminal histories from “three or four different states and they’re really involved in moving around,” and “seem to have trouble wherever they go.” He said that while we have 157 people identified as transient charged with felony cases as of early September he estimated by the end of the year there could be as many as 262 felonies committed by people identified as transient in Whatcom County.
Meanwhile, here is an example that Prosecutor McEachran picked to bolster his claim that this is “a real concern because we are seeing more and more crimes of these people.”:
“We had an individual the other day, uh, this was a number of months ago, pushing a shopping cart across the Guide. And the shopping cart was stolen – they’re all stolen, at 150 to 200 bucks a pop.
“He was pushing it across the street and he thought he had the right of way – the motorist thought he did – so he left his shopping cart there and he gestured at the motorist and he walked over to the window.
“The motorist rolled his window down, which is not a good idea. And they talked pretty, – not very nice to each other – exchanged expletives. The individual, who’s name is Gabriel, moved away, put his hand on his side like he had a gun.
“And so the driver who realized nobody’s behind him put his car in reverse, and Gabriel pulled out a gun, and at that point the driver then went forward, indicated his car [indistinguishable], and struck Gabriel. Gabriel got on the hood and fired a shot off and went right through the door near the passenger.”
According to Mr. McEachran’s account, it depends on who you have a greater inclination to believe is guilty of a criminal act, someone who stole a shopping cart (in a city that is just on the verge of maybe creating a few locker spaces for hundreds of people without homes where they might actually be able to store any of their possessions) and who pulled a gun, or someone in a car with a questionable right of way who drove his car at a man standing in the street.
Meanwhile regarding the shopping cart theft, that’s one shopping cart the man Mr. McEachran identified as Gabriel had stolen. There was no evidence presented by McEachran that this man “Gabriel” is responsible for any other shopping cart thefts, even though the Prosecuting Attorney had to put forward the accusation that all shopping carts are stolen, in his mind, presumably by “transients.”
This alarmism from the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney and Senator Doug Ericksen about “transients” and “homeless criminals” and how Bellingham is such an attractive place for them, ignores the benefit to our community monetarily and health-wise in investing in the well-being of its community members during the time they are here. Leaving people unhoused and without a variety of services for their specific needs costs us much more money when they end up in our already overcrowded jails and prisons. Failing to provide unhoused people with the kind of stability that generates opportunities for jobs and contributing to our community creates a greater likelihood that they will need to resort to actions that are detrimental to themselves and others.
Jim Peterson, the president of HomesNOW! Not Later, “a group of volunteers working together to provide homes and shelter for the homeless in Bellingham and Whatcom County,” posted a video today in the Homes Now! Bellingham Facebook group about some current activities of the organization and obstacles with which they are dealing. The negative image of homeless people as being dangerous and criminals was something that Mr. Peterson was speaking of as a stumbling block to his organization bringing solutions to homelessness to Whatcom County.
Here is part of what Mr. Peterson had to say:
“All I can say is, thanks everybody for giving me the heads up about the guy going to [Whatcom County Executive] Jack Louws because he’s adamantly opposed to where Unity Village [temporary housing for unhoused residents experiencing homelessness] is [proposed to be]. And no matter where we go, we’re gonna have that person.
“Today we did submit the proposal to the City [of Bellingham] for what we’re calling Winter Haven, a safe tent encampment [for people experiencing homelessness] to get through winter. We put it up on our Facebook page. It’s on our website. So, if you really care and you really want to see what it’s, what we’re doin’, that’s it. We got no hidden agenda. We just want to help the homeless.
“Am I frustrated? You bet your ass, I’m frustrated. Am I disappointed? You bet your ass, I’m disappointed. I don’t know what we gotta do to prove that we can do this or the homeless aren’t all bad.
“Uh, one thing would help is if the elected officials would start stating that not all of them are drug addicts and alcoholics and mentally ill and they’re not failures. But I haven’t heard that come out of anybody’s mouth that’s elected official or running for office.”