June 20, 2021 Dena Jensen
Draft minutes have been posted to the June 10, 2021 Whatcom County Housing Advisory Committee meeting on the County website. This is the Whatcom County government committee that has been given responsibility by the Whatcom County Council to oversee the carrying out of long and short term sheltering recommendations that were assembled by Health Department staff.
Here is a link to the minutes that are also pictured in the graphics in this post: https://www.whatcomcounty.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_06102021-2855 (There is an error on the meeting date in these draft minutes. They are definitely for June 10, and not April 8. April 8 minutes are posted and are entirely different.)
This committee meets every two months. I attended the June 10 Zoom meeting. Whatcom County Health Department Human Services Manager Anne Deacon gave what she called a speed-reading version of her presentation of those sheltering recommendations that she had given to Whatcom County Council and Bellingham City Council Members in weeks past.
Here is a segment from Ms. Deacon’s brief presentation:
“We are working closely with the Homeless Outreach Team, and thank you to Teri Bryant and her staff for this. But we are learning, if people are not using shelters, why not? What do they need? Is it something that government or public funds can support? If not, what other partners might be able to provide those resources? Quite a lot of work is in process there and maybe at our next meeting, we will dedicate some time to going over what we’ve heard so far.
“You’ll notice also with that inventory of shelters, there are significant specialty shelters that are currently being provided. We also learned in our last meeting of this committee that we have a number of populations that may not feel comfortable utilizing our current shelters, so we are still focusing on shelters for those populations that may not do well in the ones we have available.
“And then we’re also reaching out to HomesNOW and other tiny home providers to figure out, you know, what is needed and do we need more tiny homes? Is that the answer, or is there something – another option that might be more suitable to the resources available, and the needs of our population. So that was another thing that we’re looking at, fairly focused right now.”
It is interesting that the draft minutes say in the section regarding Ms. Deacon’s presentation that, “Each meeting, staff will report on the progress of recommendations, followed by discussion.” I never heard this said during the meeting and Ms. Deacon was even tentative as to whether there might be more discussion of a sheltering needs assessment out in the community at the next meeting.
Meanwhile, HAC members had no questions for Ms. Deacon after her presentation on the sheltering recommendations at this meeting.
I made a recording of this meeting, so if folks have questions about any of the other discussion in the minutes, let me know.
Lastly, here was my off-the-cuff public comment . (Two minutes went by more quickly than I was ready to end. And the timer I set chimed so everyone could hear it. 🙃 😆 😩)
“Good morning, this is Dena Jensen from Birch Bay. I just wanted to say that I appreciated hearing, from Anne’s presentation of the recommendations from the Homeless Strategies Workgroup, the reference to reaching out to HomesNOW regarding whether there is a need to continue to pursue tiny home communities as a form of sheltering for our community members.
“It’s appreciated from the perspective that looking at the recommendations for community members who have been following these issues and the sheltering needs of the community and what has been offered, especially during the winter season, those recommendations look fairly bleak, based on our past few winters that we’ve had, because the severe weather shelters haven’t served us very well because they have been very limited in the amount of offerings and, you know, effectiveness of actually bringing people.
“The warming shelters have been better, but I notice that – it’s my understanding that there was a recommendation from the Health Department against having any government-run shelters, and the warming shelters that we’ve had in the past were government-run shelters, along with volunteers, of course, and other people.
“But I just feel like, because the community is very aware, and is paying attention to what’s going on during winter shelters, there really needs to be an understanding, and a feeling that the community can help when things get really challenging.”