June 1, 2020 Dena Jensen
On May 29, 2020 Whatcom County’s Homeless Strategies Workgroup held its first meeting since March, 13, 2020, shortly after Governor Inslee declared a State of Emergency regarding COVID-19. Here is a link to the meeting agenda: http://whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/47558/Meeting-Agenda-24—2020-05-29
Below is an email I wrote to the Homeless Strategies Workgroup regarding that May 29 meeting.
Dear Homeless Strategies Workgroup:
I have included the email addresses I know and request all members of the workgroup get a copy of this email, please.
This weekend I listened to your May 29, 2020 Homeless Strategies Workgroup (HSW) meeting which was primarily focused on a single agenda item, “Discussion regarding replacement shelter facility (future move from Bellingham High School).” I understand that the Drop-In center at Bellingham High School, which is managed by the Lighthouse Mission, will have to be moving to another location when normal school operations start to resume, potentially, in late summer.
It is unfortunate that there seems to be a singular focus on finding a new temporary location for Lighthouse Mission’s Drop-In center, that will house approximately 200 people, when the Lighthouse Mission does have their own former Drop-In Center location. If this would be considered an expansion of services, where Lighthouse Mission operated at half-capacity at their original location and then offered services to up to 200 at a new location, that might be a valuable improvement. Otherwise, for a significant investment of money provided by the government, there will be only an ability to better serve (in terms of greater space and better arrangement to promote health and other types of well-being) a small percentage more people who are unsheltered than Lighthouse Mission was serving at their original Drop-In Center location. It will be better, but there will be a lot of cost to the community, and it would still would not be a permanent location, though is envisioned to provide services for a few years.
While I am not saying this is a horrible idea, I found it very dispiriting and almost counterproductive, that the brainstorming that was supposed to occur at the 5/29/20 HSW meeting really involved very narrow grounds for creativity. Basically, it seemed much more like an update on what Unified Command is already pursuing. And it seems like they are mostly pursuing finding a property or properties to move the Drop-In Center to.
Bellingham City Council Member Dan Hammill expressed frustration at the HSW meeting that the one person on the workgroup, Markis Stidham of HomesNOW!, who fills the seat provided for a Homeless Advocate (there should be numerous more homeless advocates and members of the homeless community on the workgroup, by the way), continues to speak out for tiny home communities at each meeting. In contrast, I find it very frustrating that when tiny home communities are brought up, it is extremely rare that anyone in the meeting engages in finding out how they can support the development of tiny home communities. Of the long list of things that Council Member Hammill reeled off, which he implied were negatives regarding tiny home communities, most of them I would turn to view as positives, and would think that the community members who have gone about finding ways to support and move forward an organization like HomesNOW! in its goal to end homelessness in Whatcom County, would view as positive aspects too.
First, tiny home communities can be modified to serve many types of community members who aren’t currently being well-served in Whatcom County, such as couples, people with pets, people fleeing domestic violence, people with adult children, veterans. All of these types of situations for people who don’t have shelter would be better served by tiny home communities, which bring services they need to them, than they would be left to fend for themselves because all other options are at capacity. The inexpensive nature of these communities, brought about by the attraction to, and accessibility for, community members to volunteer materials and services, delivers functional places for unsheltered community members to gain stability and start getting the services they need until places for them are able to be acquired in more intensive or permanent facilities.
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Additionally, I do not view there being any “over-leveraging” of volunteers or supplies or materials, as Council Member Hammill asserted, in regard to tiny home communities. These are not things tiny homes communities have to pay back in kind or in funds. The function of tiny home communities to create well-being in their greater community is the return on investment. The “free” stuff is what the community is inspired to contribute by way of the advocacy and community engagement of groups like HomesNOW, where often, community members are less inspired to pay taxes, or are more inclined to think someone else has all the needs for people who are unsheltered already handled. The repayment for products and services ends up being exactly what community members are seeking: more unsheltered people housed and on the road to thriving, along with less crime, unemployment, illness, injury etc. in the community. So community members give and do more, get valuable things in return, and the government needs to do less than they would, for example, in the case of potentially coming up with millions to help a large congregate shelter potentially become larger.
Even though I know that ideally, Markis Stidham has expressed many times that he would like to see the government develop their own tiny home communities, it has also been made clear that HomesNOW! has the goal of expanding and is agreeable to help anyone else who would step forward to create more tiny home communities, or more-temporary tent communities. At the HSW meetings there is rarely the slightest bit of encouragement or support shown for even this. Instead, the one existing tiny home village provider is left spending a lot of their energies simply appealing to agencies to allow their one successful community to remain operational. Meanwhile, volunteers and supporters of tiny home, or tent, or “cottage” communities, remain strong in their commitment to them. How much further could they go and how much more of the community would become engaged if groups like HomesNOW! were actually facilitated by fellow HSW members in reaching goals they have expressed to the workgroup that they are seeking to pursue? How many tiny home communities would be operational and ready to serve more members of the community safely – even under pandemic conditions – when the next cold weather season hits?
I call on all workgroup members to work much more cooperatively across all members, and to demonstrate acts of facilitating for each other the accomplishment of the purpose of the Homeless Strategies Workgroup:
- Additional temporary winter shelters,
- Added capacity for year round shelters.
- Additional opportunities to address the needs of the county’s homeless population, and
- An additional purpose of the Homeless Strategies Workgroup (as per 8/9/19 meeting) is to create a communication network for organizations to work together better.
- Strategies to prevent people from having no other option than to sleep outside.”
Birch Bay, WA
This email was sent to the following addresses: