Sluggish and inadequate government response to local extreme weather threats to the unhoused / Facebook post, Sj Robson

City of Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, left. Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws, right.

February 14, 2019 Sandy Robson

It is painful to witness the continued sluggish and inadequate response from the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County governments to the critical situation facing some unhoused/unsheltered people in Whatcom County during this current period of very cold weather and the accompanying build-up of snow.

On February 8, 2019, Washington state’s governor, Jay Inslee, declared a statewide State of Emergency in preparation for another winter storm that was expected at that time to move through the Pacific Northwest later that day and throughout the weekend. 

That same day, on February 8, after Governor Inslee had declared the statewide State of Emergency, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws then declared a Proclamation of Emergency for Whatcom County. The first four lines of that proclamation read:

“Whereas, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management has reported to the Whatcom County Executive, beginning February 8, 2019, that severe winter storm conditions exist in Whatcom County and are forecast to continue, and,

“Whereas, Governor Jay Inslee has issued Proclamation 19-02, hereby proclaiming that a State of Emergency exist throughout the State of Washington, and, 

“Whereas, this incident is a threat to life and property, and demands immediate action, and, 

“Whereas, personal and property may be damaged unless further efforts are taken to reduce the threat to life…”

To my best understanding, a Whatcom County Proclamation of Emergency requires the signatures of the County Executive (Jack Louws) and the Whatcom County Sheriff and Director of Emergency Management (Bill Elfo), and it needs to be approved to be in proper form (“Approved as to Form”) which in this case was approved by a Whatcom County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, who signed the document. All of those steps appear to have been done on Friday, February 8. 

As for Bellingham, the city which comprises the largest population within Whatcom County, two more days would pass before Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, would declare a City of Bellingham Proclamation of Emergency on Monday, February 11, 2019. In terms of signatures required for a City of Bellingham Proclamation of Emergency, to my best knowledge, that document only requires the signature of the mayor (Kelli Linville), so it should be pretty simple to pull together quickly when an emergency arises, which the governor and county executive both felt was in existence on February 8. 

The first five lines of the City of Bellingham Proclamation of Emergency read:

“Whereas, the City of Bellingham Director of Emergency Services has reported to the Mayor and Deputy City Administrator, beginning February 8, 2019, that severe winter storm conditions exist in the city of Bellingham and are forecast to continue, and,

“Whereas, Governor Jay Inslee has issued Proclamation 19-02, hereby proclaiming that a State of Emergency exist throughout the State of Washington, and,

“Whereas, Whatcom County has issued a Proclamation of Emergency signed by Whatcom County Executive Louws, in effect as long as the winter weather conditions continue.

“Whereas, the City of Bellingham has experienced an event that requires emergency response; and

“Whereas, the conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property currently existing with the City…”

Why didn’t Bellingham Mayor Linville declare a Proclamation of Emergency on Friday, February 8, which according to the proclamation, is when the City of Bellingham Director of Emergency Services reported to the mayor and the deputy city administrator, the severe winter storm conditions that were in existence?

Had the mayor done that last Friday, February 8, she would have likely been able to make arrangements for a temporary emergency shelter to be opened in Bellingham that would provide a warm place for unhoused/unsheltered people to go to keep safe during the severe winter conditions outside. 

Instead, the City of Bellingham waited until Tuesday evening, February 12, to open a small, temporary, city-run emergency overnight shelter (7:00 PM to 7:00 AM) that can hold up to a capacity of 25 homeless persons (men-only). The city-run, overnight shelter is located in the pavilion at Maritime Heritage Park.

A February 13 article published in the online version of The Bellingham Herald reported that Mayor Linville said: 
“We are operating this severe-weather shelter to support other shelter efforts, provide alternatives to the Lighthouse Mission, and to demonstrate that the city is ready to take action when needed.”

One has to wonder why the city (Mayor Linville) was not “ready to take action” when it was needed at least 5 days earlier, the day that the governor and the county executive both declared that an emergency existed because of the winter storms wreaking havoc on Washington state and in Whatcom County.

Also, one has to wonder why County Executive Jack Louws has, so far, not taken immediate actions necessary to reduce the threat to the lives of numerous unhoused people in light of the exigencies declared in his Proclamation of Emergency, dated February 8, 2019. 

Link to The Bellingham Herald Feb. 13, 2019 article:
https://www.bellinghamherald.com/…/lo…/article226225265.html

Read Sandy’s post on her Facebook page here.

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