April 12, 2021 Dena Jensen
Subject: Failing to address root issues at your April 12, 2021 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting
Dear Bellingham City Council:
I listened to your April 12, 2021 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting from this afternoon. Your discussion was related to information in a staff memo from today that stated in part:
“Bellingham Technical College (BTC) has documented many incidents that have occurred at and around the Perry Center. Incidents range from physical attacks, threats and aggression towards students and employees to used drug needles left in front of the building, tents set up next to the building, people sleeping in vehicles and in the doorway of the main entrance to the building, garbage, and human feces in the area near the building.”
I understand the City Council is considering a drop-arm security gate with keypad to help control access to the parking lot at the Perry Center near Maritime Heritage park, as a measure of protection for the Fisheries and Aquaculture Science Program.
Al Jensen gave the presentation on the proposal for the security gate and the related situation at Perry Center. It was not made clear at the meeting prior to his presentation what Mr. Jensen’s current position is with the City of Bellingham. I know he worked for the Bellingham Police Department for decades, but his retirement was announced a few years back and I didn’t hear anyone mention his position today. It actually seemed as if he worked in some capacity for Bellingham Technical College’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Science Program.
With that background about Mr. Jensen as reference, regarding the concerns he expressed over safety issues at Perry Center, I want to note a couple of things he said to you today. He had stated at one point,
“It’s too bad that our first year students, the first two classes they have to take now is the proper handling of disposed hypodermic needles and how to properly dispose of human waste.”
At another point, Mr. Jensen also stated,
“We had a guy here a few weeks ago. He came in, unloaded a camper, within 10 minutes. And within a half hour, he had a fortress built, and it took us a week and a half to get him out of there. I mean they just show up.”
After hearing such statements, along with the information presented in the staff memo, I was surprised and disappointed that after an entire cold weather season of unsheltered community members being chased around Bellingham by City employees, to not hear any of the Council Members in attendance in that meeting bringing up an additional need for services being offered to community members who obviously are not being able to access appropriate services and shelter that provide them with hygienic and stable living conditions.
While one Council Member expressed a concern over feeling the need for even greater safety measures to protect students, workers, and the hatcheries in the area, there was no concern expressed over the community members who are not finding the services and shelter they need so that they are not existing under crisis circumstances. Obviously their crisis effects the well-being of the whole community. And while you can continue putting up more barriers and chasing these community members around the City to places where safety issues will likely arise again, it seems clear that the root of the problem is not being solved.
I call on you to adopt an approach to your community members that: demonstrates an understanding that their crises are your crises; will not accept people falling through gaps in services; will not allow any community members to be treated as expendable or undeserving of dignity.
Birch Bay, WA
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