February 3, 2022 Dena Jensen
Sent: Thursday, February 3, 2022, 01:11:02 PM PST
Subject: Calling for more sheltering and services and less policing
Dear Mayor Fleetwood and Bellingham City Council:
I don’t know what question was asked by the reporter or what the exact statement was that Mayor Fleetwood made, but the following acknowledgement of the mayor’s that was highlighted in the February 2, 2022 Cascadia Daily article, “Bellingham hires security to patrol downtown,”
(https://www.cascadiadaily.com/news/2022/feb/02/bellingham-hires-security-to-patrol-downtown/) is a position that I imagine a lot of community members are getting a strong sense of through the supporting actions that are described throughout the article:
“Fleetwood acknowledged that part of the security team’s job is to reduce the visible population of homeless people in the city’s commercial areas.”
I think it is safe to say that there are many community members who identify this approach to our friends and neighbors in crisis as being a huge barrier to actually housing, sheltering, and providing services for those who are without homes and are living outdoors.
Last year, the encampment at City Hall offered an intensified picture of just how many community members there are who are not being offered services that address their needs. Ultimately, the City took multiple actions to disperse those people. But the numbers of people living in crisis in Bellingham have not diminished at all.
Also, the article reported this perspective from the Mayor: “‘The intention is this will be fully a carrot, not a stick,’ Fleetwood said of the [security] team’s approach.” But that statement is in direct conflict with this description of the security team’s function from the article, “If security personnel see a crime in progress, they will call 911 and identify themselves as hired security to initiate a police response, a city spokesperson said.”
We know that the breaking of laws is what constitutes a crime, so that’s a broad umbrella that can allow sticks to be thrown at community members living outside, whose existence is relegated to one that has a hard time escaping criminalization.
One thing that illustrates this is that there has been growing distress coming from community members who are living in vehicles downtown, as they are being increasingly and frequently warned that their homes will be towed and impounded.
So, this all leads back around to the failure to plan for and provide increased sheltering options. While enough housing options and behavioral health services are years in the future, it results in government agencies deciding to spend money on policing, in whatever forms that takes. Encampment sweeps in general, the militarized sweep of Camp 210, and vehicle tagging and towing are all direct examples of this. The high percentage of behavioral health calls that police receive is another.
Now that the Bellingham Police Department has been communicating about their staffing shortages to officials (which they anticipate being a condition to last for around a decade), it is more important than ever for community members to be pressing for alternative services and for the means to shift people’s use to these services rather than having police dispatched. BPD is saying their response times are longer now for certain types of calls. That makes it a perfect time for bringing forward services that will either eliminate many calls or result in shorter response times, which will allow those calls to be taken out of the hands of police.
And shelter! I continue to call for emergency winter shelter to be provided immediately, during these hostile weather conditions. At the same time, plans should be in the works to significantly increase shelter services year-round for those who are chronically homeless. Please work with and empower your community members who are offering input and help. More shelter options and services will result in less reasons for police service calls and government investment in policing efforts, while at the same, time it will increase well-being for the entire community.
Birch Bay, WA
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