Whatcom and Bellingham governments to community: expect to go without / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the image of participants at a Zoom meeting to access the Whatcom County meeting information page for the Housing Advisory Committee

December 11, 2021 Dena Jensen

Back in November it was just a statement at a City Council committee meeting and more narrowly focused on homeless sheltering: “We are doing what we can locally. We will not meet the demand. We will never meet the demand.” 

Thursday, it was informally announced at the last Whatcom County Housing Advisory Committee meeting until Februray of 2022 that there is a current communications effort among some of our Whatcom County and City of Bellingham employees to reinforce public expectations that we will never have enough housing. 

In other words, government agency resources are being spent to encourage the whole community to adopt the expectation – and remember this will include those who are in crisis and have been waiting and working for an indoor space of their own for anywhere from days, to months, to years – that some people will just have to continue to go without. Forever.

Here is the email I sent to County and City officials yesterday:

Dear County Executive Sidhu, Whatcom County Council, Mayor Fleetwood, Bellingham City Council, and Health Department Director Lautenbach:

I recently listened to meeting of the Whatcom County Housing Advisory Committee that took place  this Thursday, December 10. 

I want you all to imagine that the following statement which was made during the Housing Advisory Committee had been made, instead, to members of the public who turned out for the Flood Response Community meeting that was held at Nooksack Valley High School last month, on November 24 after weather catastrophes had displaced hundreds of formerly housed and unhoused people. 

“I was just gonna to pop in that we do have some work that the City and County are doing together, sort of communicating the lay of the land with the public regarding housing and homelessness. And I think some of this will be helped by really setting expectations and continuing to reinforce the expectations of the public that we will never have enough housing to meet the needs of folks on days like this.  And so we are working –  and Teri has been working on this with us, as well – but I’m really trying to think about this from both an operational and communications standpoint, because I think sometimes there’s a mismatch in public expectations and availability of resources.”

Our Whatcom County Health Department Director, who did attend both of these meetings was the one who made this statement during the Housing Advisory Committee. Fortunately, her remarks to the audience at the Flood Response Community Meeting, provided an entirely different and audibly more empathetic message and tone. 

Hopefully, most of you have viewed or attended the meeting and listened to community members in the midst of immediate crisis and loss who showed up to Flood Response Community meeting. From my attendance at that meeting it is my sense that had any official told community members who attended that there would never be enough housing or shelter to meet their needs, this would have increased distress and escalated the intensity of the already intense reactions they were having to their lives having been turned upside down. 

I am aware of and empathize with the extensive and sustained amount of pressure and workload that the pandemic and weather crises are putting on all of our government agencies, including and especially Health Department leadership and personnel. For this reason, it is all the more important that government agencies and private organizations join with their community to ensure that all of us, and especially those in charge of the good health and well-being of the community, are provided with resources required to meet the needs of those in crisis. 

Therefore, it has never been more apparent that we cannot afford a government strategy that leaves a significant amount of community resources for addressing the needs of people in crisis unrecognized and untapped, let alone actually putting staff time and energy into avoiding or discrediting some of these resources. 

I call on all of you to widely engage and empower your community, as you never have before, so that they can, in turn, provide a level and quality of resources that will keep anyone from feeling or saying that we will never be able to house or shelter all of our community members who are suffering crisis, loss, and mistreatment. 


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


Email addresses: ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us, mayorsoffice@cob.org, council@co.whatcom.wa.us, ccmail@cob.org, elautenb@co.whatcom.wa.us


Here is a link to the information page for the Housing Advisory Committee. Even though meetings are recorded, the recordings are not being posted on this page. The agenda is posted but minutes are not yet available for the meeting held this week: https://www.whatcomcounty.us/AgendaCenter/Whatcom-County-Housing-Advisory-Committe-13