How valid fears highlight gaps in our sheltering options / Comment to Whatcom County Council

November 9, 2021 Dena Jensen

I provided a public comment during Whatcom County Council’s Open Session tonight. You can send your comments to

Both the County Council and Bellingham City Council Committees of the Whole just received presentations this week on interim sheltering options and current related strategies of the County Health Department and City of Bellingham staff. The slide included in this post is from the Health Department’s presentation to County Council Members. ( COB’s Tara Sundin from their Planning and Development department highlighted the same talking points to City Council Members on Monday.

To me, the two top points are in interesting juxtaposition. Partnering with organizations that have experience seems like a defense method against considering building upon the current powerful resource of their community, which both Councils and their staff members are failing to do in an equitable way. 

I talk about the lack of safety at Base Camp and congregate shelters in my comment, not to scare people away from those shelters, but to acknowledge that people who are scared to go there have a sound basis for their fears and those fears should not be minimized or discredited by our City and County leaders and government agency staff members.

Here’s what I said:

Dena Jensen, Birch Bay. Good evening Council Members and community members. Tonight I acknowledge that I am residing on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish and Semiahmoo peoples. I acknowledge them as the original inhabitants of this land with which they have an ongoing relationship, and as those whose access to these lands we must work to return and nurture.

I know you all received a presentation at your Committee of the Whole meeting today related to interim shelter options, which I haven’t gotten to hear yet, but I did hear much of the presentation that was given yesterday to the Bellingham City Council on those sheltering options. 

I appreciate efforts that have expanded the availability of tiny homes, and young adult sheltering for this winter. And the overflow shelter for Lighthouse Mission’s Base Camp is a positive move toward potentially making those two congregate settings safer.  

It was said yesterday that the City of Bellingham partners with organizations that have experience and can offer safety to the people that they shelter. 

And I want to clarify that Base Camp is not always a safe facility. I don’t think that it’s possible for any congregate shelter to be completely safe. And the reason that I think it’s important for that to be recognized by our elected leaders and staff members who are communicating to the public, is that one of the reasons that people do not want to return to Base Camp, at least for periods of time, is that they have been present when things were unsafe there. 

Another reason it is important for people to know this, is that people who go to check in at Base Camp while the Christ the King overflow shelter is open, may not be sent to the the overflow shelter. Base Camp sends along people to the Christ the King shelter if they feel they are a good fit for that location. Therefore, if someone experienced an unsafe stay at Base Camp, they are not assured to be allowed to stay elsewhere. 

I have been requesting Bellingham Police case reports for Base Camp and am receiving them, no more than 20 a month, because that is all the public records staff says they can handle releasing to members of the public. And Base Camp, From February of 2021 on through September of 2021 averages about 20, or slightly more, Bellingham Police case reports a month, and there are a variety of different types of alleged threats, assaults, improper conduct, and damage, that occur there. 

If this is not something that is being tracked by the Health Department and other officials, it should be. And, remember that those case reports just cover the times unsafe incidents were officially reported.

We need more shelter options this winter. And I call on all of you to not perpetuate the narrative that most people don’t go to Base Camp because they don’t want to follow the rules. 

Thank you