A call to stop moving dangerous and unsafe conditions to new locations in Whatcom County / Letter to Bellingham and Whatcom County officials

Credit for map image of streets and businesses in downtown Bellingham near the cross streets of Cornwall Ave. and York St.: Google Maps (modified with current Base Camp location and an arrow indicating Arlis’s Restaurant)

April 14, 2021 Dena Jensen

Keep writing your elected officials and working on sheltering solutions.

There was another encampment sweep in Bellingham at Sunset Pond Park this morning. More people without shelter displaced. Meanwhile, it’s possible one of our Port of Bellingham Commissioners is working on hiring a security guard because they don’t think the police are moving unsheltered people on to shelter and services (which currently don’t exist for many). 

Here is the email I sent about all that tonight: 

Subject: A call to stop moving dangerous and unsafe conditions to new locations in our County

Dear Mayor Fleetwood, Bellingham City Council, County Executive Sidhu, Whatcom County Council, Port of Bellingham Commissioners, and the Homeless Strategies Work Group:

I am including in this email a link to an online fundraiser for Arlis’s Restaurant that I saw posted in a Facebook group I belong to.

The webpage for the fundraiser shows that it is being organized by Ken Bell. I do not know for sure if this is the same Ken Bell that is a Port of Bellingham Commissioner, but it seems likely to me that it is.

The opening paragraph of the text included on that webpage states: 

“Arlis’s restaurant and the block across the street from the Basecamp shelter have been heavily impacted by the influx of homeless people into the area.” 

Descriptions in the text are made of activities that are said to be heavily impacting Arlis’s Restaurant. Some of the implication of the information seems to be that the “influx of homeless people” is making the restaurant and the area near Base Camp less safe, and therefore Mr. Bell is organizing the raising of funds for a security guard, “to be in the business during operating hours… We hope to raise enough for 24 hour security around the block.”

I had just written some of you about the amendment the Bellingham City Council voted to approve on April 12, 2021 that will control the parking lot at Perry Center, near Maritime Heritage Park, due to safety concerns that were related to assertions of drug use, human waste, and people putting up tents in the area.  I also understand that the Sunset Pond Park area where people without shelter have been camping recently was swept this morning. Community members noted that Bellingham Police officers and a clean-up crew were seen on site at that location. 

The Mayor of Bellingham and City workers have made statements in the media and on the City of Bellingham website about health and safety issues justifying the displacement of people who do not have shelter from areas where they were receiving more centralized community support, such as at City Hall and at Geri Field. Meanwhile, through the information provided about the situation at Perry Center, and now the area adjacent to Base Camp, we are presented with examples that people who are in crisis, due to not having appropriate shelter and services, are suffering lack of hygienic and stabilizing conditions that contribute to a reduction in healthy and safe conditions in all the areas these people are scattered to, whether seen on City streets, in City parks, or less obviously in wooded or other more obscure locations. 

While the fundraiser text for Arlis’s Restaurant states, “We are asking for help to move people from the streets into the safety of the shelter or any other organization that can provide services,” it also goes on to say that this is the job of police. But, with the situation as it is, the organizer says they are raising funds for a security guard. 

I think that after all the money spent on Bellingham Police Department sweeps of homeless encampments year after year – that can also often be viewed in increments of week after week – that all of you should be well aware that those police and those sweeps are not getting people into the safety of shelter or services, because ample, appropriate, accessible, and diverse shelter and service options do not currently exist. 

The act of calling for more police action, as we keep seeing time after time, will just keep moving the problem, and potentially increasing it, into new areas. Providing security measures will only provide health and safety for some people and locations, while leaving other people to continue to struggle in crisis under new conditions, in new areas, until they are once again pushed to face the next destabilizing situation.

I am calling on you all to move immediately to empower your government agencies and your community to provide ample emergency sheltering options and services, and, again, 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. 


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; ccmail@cob.org <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>; Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>; council@co.whatcom.wa.us <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>; Michael Shepard <michaels@portofbellingham.com>; Ken Bell <kenb@portofbellingham.com>; Bobby Briscoe <bobbyb@portofbellingham.com>; Cathy Halka <chalka@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Ann Beck <abeck@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Anne Deacon <adeacon@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Mike Hilley <mhilley@co.whatcom.wa.us>; michael_parker@whatcomhsc.org <michael_parker@whatcomhsc.org>; rileysweeney@cityofferndale.org <rileysweeney@cityofferndale.org>; Tyler Schroeder <tschroed@co.whatcom.wa.us>

Cc: parks@cob.org <parks@cob.org>