Where are our Severe Weather Shelters during nights with below-28-degree low temperatures? / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to access Whatcom County’s webpage for Winter Emergency Shelter Options for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

February 21, 2020  Dena Jensen

Nighttime lows in Bellingham have been under 28 degrees for the last three nights, according to the National Weather Service. Here is an email I sent to the Homeless Strategies Workgroup tonight:

Subject: Where are our Severe Weather Shelters during nights with below-28-degree low temperatures?

Dear Homeless Strategies Workgroup:

I wrote you all on February 19, 2020, and the National Weather Service had reported the Bellingham low on February 18th had been 27 degrees. Since then temperatures have been: February 19, 26 degrees; February 20, 25 degrees.  That’s three nights in a row below the 28 degree threshold for opening severe weather shelters. The week prior to this one, the Lighthouse Mission had reported having to turn people away on some nights and being at notably higher capacity than last year at this time. Whether or not the Lighthouse Mission anticipated being at capacity or not for those nights of the 18th through the 20th, I just can’t fathom why in February, the fourth month of the hostile weather season – that’s 4 months unsheltered people have had to try to do what it takes to make it through nighttimes without freezing or succumbing to hypothermia – that severe weather shelters weren’t and aren’t being opened.

I had a Facebook Memory come up the day after I wrote you all on February 19th. It was a post I had made last year, saying: “At today’s Whatcom County Council Special County Council Meeting, Council Member Buchanan made a motion to keep the Garden Room men’s warming shelter open until March 1, [2019] after it would have closed from their overnight hours on that date. Council Member Donovan seconded. The vote was 5-0 to keep the shelter open.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/homesnowbellingham/permalink/824751701207370/

As I remember, low temperatures were anticipated to still be in the 30s and I had said in my post that the County Executive had indicated in the meeting that he would not be in favor of keeping the Proclamation of Emergency (which was allowing the Garden Room shelter to remain open) in place for more than 2 or 3 days beyond February 20th. So, County Council Members had chosen to vote to keep the Garden Room open till March 1, 2019 despite the Executive’s resistance.

I continue to find it hard to identify where meaningful progress has been made regarding providing shelter access for those who do not have it this winter  I don’t know how officials who have been engaged in the HSW meetings for many months now and have worked to find people willing to provide shelter during the winter, do not seem to be as invested now, in making sure people have access to winter shelter this season, as they were last year when they seemed to have far less resources.

I call on the Homeless Strategies Workgroup, should there be any indication that low temperatures will be in the mid-thirties or lower during the rest of the winter, to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that severe weather shelters be made available and accessible to unsheltered people in our county.


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

Sent to: Cathy Halka <chalka@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Carol Frazey <cfrazey@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Barry Buchanan <bbuchana@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>; Seth Fleetwood <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; Ann Beck <abeck@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Regina Delahunt <rdelahun@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Daniel C. Hammill <dchammill@cob.org>; Michael Parker <michael_parker@whatcomhsc.org>; Michael Shepard <michaels@portofbellingham.com>; Mike Hilley <mhilley@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Tyler Schroeder <tschroed@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Riley Sweeney <rileysweeney@cityofferndale.org>

Cc: Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>