A call to provide winter shelters in Bellingham and Whatcom County / Letter to Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council

October 30, 2020 Dena Jensen

Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2020, 07:39:21 PM PDT

Subject: A call to provide winter shelters

Dear Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council:

I am calling on you to take immediate action to address the absence of ample winter shelters to keep individuals being left with no other option than to sleep outside overnight during conditions that can cause hypothermia, and in the middle of a pandemic. According to an October 16, 2020 King5 report, “Washington State remains on track for a cooler, wetter winter.” https://www.king5.com/article/weather/weather-blog/winter-outlook-wetter-colder-washington-state/281-8a300d02-79fb-48b3-837f-2303c49133af 

At the October 23, 2020 Homeless Strategies Workgroup meeting, Emily O’Connor from Lydia Place, shared that the waiting list for housing for families with children is up to 120, 50% of whom are unsheltered. She said this percentage represented the list had doubled in size this year and this is at a stage before the moratorium on evictions has ended. Mike Parker from the Opportunity Council emphasized how rare it is to have such a significant increase in such a short amount of time. Related to this Ms. O’Connor said that she has spoken with Debbie Pate at the Opportunity Council and that they haven’t had a recent availability of funds for motel stays. On top of this, Ms. O’Connor said that, currently, Lydia Place does not have sufficient staffing for adequate wait-list management and that the turn-over for the the people on the list is very slow. She told Mayor Fleetwood that it would take $1.6 million to eliminate the waiting list (by funding case management and the rental subsidies to house those people). 

This is very concerning information to hear on top of the fact that no winter or severe weather shelters have been identified for this cold weather season, except for an extra 38 person capacity for men who are unsheltered at the Light House Mission Ministries overflow location at their former Drop-in Center, to be run by Christ the King Community Church. 

I had heard Hans Erchinger-Davis say on an early October KGMI radio show that, ““We’re looking at around, with all the, kind of, surveys that have been done, there’s around 5000 people that experience homelessness in a year in Whatcom County.” I understand that this is not a figure of how many are homeless everyday in Whatcom County, but it does help back up reports by both those who do street outreach to those who are unsheltered, and the Point In Time Count, that there are hundreds more without roofs than the few hundred people which Whatcom County and Bellingham are currently reporting are able to be sheltered.

It is my understanding that there are potentially three service providers who may be interested in developing tiny home communities in Bellingham. I know that HomesNOW! submitted a proposal for one, which was, for some reason, returned to them. I do not understand why all three of these providers would not be sought out by the City, and provided locations that have formerly been identified as acceptable locations for tiny home communities. 

If, somehow our representatives are not going to enable any service providers besides the Lighthouse Mission to shelter people this cold weather season, then I call on the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County to become those service providers and create overnight and warming shelters for those who have no other place to sleep than outside. No service provider has been identified to shelter people at Civic Field, so that would seem a place where the City could most quickly get a shelter with decent amenities up and running. But regardless of ease, the work to provide shelter must be done or it is going to cost us far more in damage to the well-being and economy of community to not do it. 

I support the continued hold on all so-called Camp Clean-ups during COVID-19, per CDC recommendations, that do not pose an imminent hazard or professionally verified health threat. Meanwhile our unsheltered community members need hot water, dumpsters, and restroom facilities too, when they are scarce during the pandemic.  At the 10/12/20 Bellingham City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Public Works Director Eric Johnston said the City had placed dumpsters intended for use by individuals who are unsheltered in various locations, and that housed community members in some of those areas had abused the use of those dumpsters. He said, however, some locations did not have that problem. He additionally remarked that the use of porta-potties had also been abused. Therefore, the City and County should develop a plan and funding (that could, at some point, come from unneeded Camp Clean-up funds) for supervising those locations so that people can access these basic necessities that, again, help protect the well-being of the entire community. 

In October, the Lighthouse Mission has already been over its current 190-person capacity for numerous nights, and winter outreach volunteers have reported people being turned away during at least one of the recent freezing nights. At the October 23, Homeless Strategies Workgroup meeting, Bridget Reeves from Lighthouse Mission Ministries said she had thought that the number of people staying at Base Camp would not necessitate daily reporting until later in November, yet the high volume of people staying at Base Camp has already necessitated daily reporting in October. Base Camp is an improved facility with amenities and a daytime availability that attracts more people, and potentially more than Base Camp will have the capacity to accommodate. At the same time, it remains true that many – hundreds of unsheltered people – cannot stay at Base Camp. I call on you to work from your experience, and do better than last year and the year before to shelter people safely, during this time when more people than ever will be needing winter shelter. 

Sincerely, 

Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


The email above was sent to the following addresses:

To: Bellingham City Council <ccmail@cob.org>;
Hannah E. Stone <hestone@cob.org>;
Hollie A. Huthman <hahuthman@cob.org>;
Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>;
Daniel C. Hammill <dchammill@cob.org>;
Lisa A. Anderson <laanderson@cob.org>;
Gene R. Knutson <gknutson@cob.org>;
Pinky T. Vargas <ptmvargas@cob.org>;
Whatcom County Council <council@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Barry Buchanan <bbuchana@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Todd Donovan <tdonovan@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Carol Frazey <cfrazey@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Rud Browne <rbrowne@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Kathy Kershner <kkershne@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Tyler Byrd <tbyrd@co.whatcom.wa.us>;
Ben Elenbaas <belenbaa@co.whatcom.wa.us>
Cc: Seth Fleetwood <mayorsoffice@cob.org>;
Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>