April 29, 2021 Dena Jensen
Yesterday I attended Bellingham City Club’s online event, “Chronic Homelessness: A Nationwide Challenge.” This was Wednesday, April 28, the same day that Bellingham Police Department’s homeless encampment cleanup coordinator and fellow officers were out to clean up the “remainder,” as the coordinator described it, of homeless encampments at Maritime Heritage Park. (The ACLU equates camp clean–ups and camp sweeps.) Some other encampment locations had been tagged to be vacated or were given instruction to bring all possessions off the streets and into parked RVs.
The City Club event was, yes, from a nationwide perspective, and the focus was housing, which is the ultimate solution to homelessness. One of the two speakers was Tod Lipka, President and CEO of Step Up, which according to the other event speaker, Philip Mangano, started as a mental health agency. Step Up now builds permanently supportive housing to serve the chronically homeless, which event moderator Christine Perkins defined as people who commonly have mental or behavioral health issues and/or physical disabilities.
Mr. Mangano is President and CEO of The American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness and worked under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations as executive director of the White House United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The two men specified a number of key components to providing effective solutions toward eliminating chronic homelessness. I am going to zero in on the components that seem transferrable to sheltering all of our unsheltered community members until permanent supportive housing in Whatcom County is achieved to the scale necessary that everyone can be housed.
- Good intentions don’t parlay to end homelessness.
- Talk to the customer and deliver what they want and need (In general, they don’t ask for a pill, program, or protocol; they ask for place)
- Scaling to the need is critical
- People shouldn’t have to travel to receive services – people are in the center and services revolve around them
- Even people who have been on the street for years and years, if you give them the place they want, they will take it.
- Seek backing of executive level officials (Mayor/County Exec)
- If these leaders won’t champion and own a plan, then approach the business community or community organizations (show them how a plan can save the community money and provide other benefits) These enterprises can either take on the plan themselves or hold officials accountable.
- Non-chronic unsheltered people don’t need long-term support. They generally need a 6-9 month intervention.
- There is no need to insist on sobriety. That is a system that rejects the person. As people are allowed to stabilize, they stop using addictive substances. Services can address mental health issues without the negative side effects from addictive substances.
- No tolerance for physical violence