March 5, 2019 Dena Jensen
In this post is the email I sent today to the Bellingham City Council and Mayor Linville, that was copied to the Whatcom County Council, County Executive Louws and Deputy Executive Schroeder regarding conflicting reports of bed availability from the Lighthouse Mission.
In the screenshots are a copy of the email I received yesterday from Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department’s Tara Sundin, and a spreadsheet from Deputy Executive Schroeder that I was forwarded and which had been made available to County Council Members. This is a spreadsheet that Whatcom County has been assembling, and which displays daily temperatures for February and March, along with numbers reflecting how many of Lighthouse Mission’s and Fountain Community Church’s available beds (up to 210) had been filled on each day for those two months of February and March 2019, according to reports made to the County by the Lighthouse Mission.
Subject: Conflicting reports from the Lighthouse Mission
Dear Bellingham City Council and Mayor Linville:
I received the email (included below my signature line) from Tara Sundin of the City’s Planning and Community Development Department. I received Ms. Sundin’s email after Council Member Barker had forwarded a March 3, 2019 email of mine to her (that I had sent to all of you Council Members and Mayor Linville), in which I had asked some questions about the City’s plan for opening shelter options under extreme weather conditions (the questions I had asked in my email are also included for your information below my signature line).
Ms. Sundin’s email did not specifically answer any of my questions. Meanwhile, the information she did provide me was very concerning. I understand from her email, and also from a recent email of Whatcom County Deputy Administrator Tyler Schroeder’s that was forwarded to me, that the Mission has been reporting that they were not at capacity for the night of Saturday March 2 (early morning of March 3). If Lighthouse Mission staff is telling people who are at their door seeking entrance, or are telling people who are seeking to bring people in to be admitted, that they are full, then there are people who need shelter who are not being accommodated, whether the facility is technically at capacity or not. This is a big problem.
Moreover, if the Lighthouse Mission is reporting to the City of Bellingham (and Whatcom County) that they had significant space available on the same nights that their staff is maintaining they were at capacity, this is also a big problem. As I have indicated before, I believe the practice of the City of Bellingham allowing a mission-based religious organization to be in full control as to whether the City’s cold-weather shelter options are triggered is a poor system. My previous basis for thinking so, has to do with the fact that this organization has an implicit bias in having control of a vulnerable population, since their vision is to befriend “those in homelessness that they become God-dependent healthy members of society, with such impact that our community points to Jesus Christ.” There is nothing wrong with them having this vision and acting on it, and the Mission provides many valuable services for those who are in a position to welcome them. But our governing bodies should not be in the business of fulfilling the vision for this religious organization by offering the level of control you are offering them.
Today, I am adding to the basis for my objection to the level of control of the homeless population that is being offered to the Lighthouse Mission by the City during extreme weather conditions. It is that there seems to be this potentially life-threatening situation, where people are either accurately or erroneously being told the Mission is full on at least a couple of occasions now. On one of those known occasions, on February 7, 2019, this information was given to two of our County Council Members, Browne and Donovan. Council Member Browne indicated in a comment on Facebook that he understood numerous people had been turned away that night. Besides Council Members being told this by Lighthouse Mission staff, it was also told to Markis Dee by Mission Staff, of which there is video, that Lighthouse Mission facilities were full on the night February 7, 2019 (and early morning of February 8, 2019).
Since February 7, there has been this subsequent occasion where Markis Dee was told over the phone by Mission staff that the Mission was full on March 3, 2019. For all the other dates, so far to my knowledge, we have no way of knowing what accurate or erroneous information people are receiving when they actually go to the door of the Mission to be let in for shelter, and we have no way of knowing what accurate or erroneous information the City or County are receiving in their reports from the Mission.
This becomes a threat to the welfare of our community, in cases where people are potentially turned away because Mission staff members are maintaining the Mission is full, while the City is refusing to offer additional service options because they are receiving reports that there was significant capacity available at the Mission and they use these reports as a basis for whether they will provide those additional City service options.
This is not acceptable. I call on all of you to take action to make sure that your decision to open shelter options in extreme weather do not depend on space being available at the Lighthouse Mission. I also call on you to promptly consult with all valuable homeless service providers in our community, and with individuals experiencing homelessness, to take direction as to what immediate and desperately needed services you can supply. I also fully support your efforts to pursue a much-improved plan for emergency services to be offered to people without shelter during extreme weather conditions, and for other short-term and long-range solutions that will bring an end to homelessness in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Birch Bay, WA