Our community members in crisis must not be treated as expendable / Letter to the Homeless Strategies Workgroup

Click the graphic to access Whatcom County’s Homeless Strategies Workgroup meeting materials webpage

March 4, 2021 Dena Jensen

Dear Homeless Strategies Workgroup:

I really appreciate the questions and points raised in recent letters sent in by Carmen Gilmore and Arrissia Owen Turner, and I hope the workgroup will use these to help cement focus and progress on primary goals. 

I also call for one of the primary goals of this workgroup being that of addressing the needs of unsheltered community members in crisis, and feel it will become easier and quicker to make progress on this goal by staying grounded in an approach that views people falling through the cracks of existing solutions – or lack of them – as unacceptable. 

The year leading up to this hostile weather season was saturated with many highly visible and painful examples of racial and social inequality. People in our own community were called on to come share their experiences of this publicly. And they did so, in government initiated settings, and in community organized events. 

In a comment I made on social media recently, I had expressed that if our government officials continue to practice governing from a perspective that some members of the community are expendable, then all of the social justice concerns expressed during the 2020 race and justice listening sessions are never going to be meaningfully addressed. For example, if we create legislation and make investments in affordable and rapid-rehousing programs and those programs have loopholes and gaps that let people fall through them, and officials accept that those people are expendable, then we are still in the same place we are right now, with just a temporarily different look to it.

No one sheltering option is going to be perfect, even in an unlikely case where they have the perfect set of resources at their disposal. There are going to be mistakes and gaps in any one enterprise. I believe it’s incumbent upon those with the mission to prevent people from having no other option that to sleep outside, to keep promptly identifying and filling those gaps.

With the level of education and awareness that has been raised in this community about the nature and degree of trauma and physical injury faced by people who have to live outside, especially in inhospitable weather conditions, I believe you have been granted the blessing that this knowledge will bring more engagement and problem-solving action. Meanwhile, it will also do away with the kind of apathy that will allow our leaders, government or otherwise, to let a hundred, or many more, of their unsheltered friends and neighbors do without assorted options to bring people into safer, more reliable, more accessible, and better-fitting accommodations than we have been providing the past few hostile weather seasons. (And as Carmen mentions, hostile weather can also occur in other seasons besides winter). 

Understanding that it is critical for sheltering service providers be able to offer services – or connections to them – that can move people toward permanent housing is a compelling reason to take action to provide sheltering solutions before crisis strikes during seasons leading up to crisis times for people living outside. Because when crisis does strike, then the people who are out there trying to take care of people that leaders haven’t provided sufficient sheltering options for, have to scramble and put themselves in danger to just make sure people don’t suffer more injury, illness, fatality, peril, and discomfort under those crisis conditions. 

I call on each of you to open yourselves up to the incredible value of all of the engagement your community is showing toward the effort to get people sheltered and cared for so that those who have been living in crisis have the stability and services they need to get housed. It’s exciting and full of potential. And your fellow community members are eager to bear witness, by way of all the things you say and do, that you are excited and thankful for their participation and ready to facilitate them in their desire to create and develop solutions. 


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: Cathy Halka <chalka@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Barry Buchanan <bbuchana@co.whatcom.wa.us>; mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>; Gene R. Knutson <gknutson@cob.org>; Mike Hilley <mhilley@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Ann Beck <abeck@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Anne Deacon <adeacon@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Michael Shepard <michaels@portofbellingham.com>; michael_parker@whatcomhsc.org <michael_parker@whatcomhsc.org>; Rud Browne <rbrowne@co.whatcom.wa.us>Cc: Hannah E. Stone <hestone@cob.org>; Hollie A. Huthman <hahuthman@cob.org>; Daniel C. Hammill <dchammill@cob.org>; Pinky T. Vargas <ptmvargas@cob.org>; Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Todd Donovan <tdonovan@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Tyler Byrd <tbyrd@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Carol Frazey <cfrazey@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Ben Elenbaas <belenbaa@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Kathy Kershner <kkershne@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Health <health@co.whatcom.wa.us>

Link to email to Homeless Strategies Workgroup sent by Carmen Gilmore: https://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/54667/Carmen-Gilmore-03-03-2021

Link to email to Homeless Strategies Workgroup sent by Arrissia Owen Turner:https://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/54666/Arrissia-Owen-Turner-02-19-2021