Regarding RV parking enforcement and equity in Bellingham / Letter to Bellingham City Council

March 15, 2022 Dena Jensen

Click the screenshot of text describing the IChange Justice podcast, “One Crisis Away from Homelessness” to access the description and podcast on Google Podcasts

Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2022, 06:25:35 PM PDT

Subject: Regarding RV parking enforcement and equity in our community

Dear Bellingham City Council:

Yesterday I was able to listen to most of your March 14, 2022 Committee of the Whole meeting, and your entire discussion related to the “Update on RV’s and the 72 hour Rule.”  

First, I would like to mention the part of the committee discussion on enforcing parking code for RVs where Bellingham Police Department Lieutenant Claudia Murphy responded to Bellingham City Council Chair Hannah Stone talking about the challenge of packing up camping gear increasing in relation to how often people might have to do that. It was apparent in the discussion that most of the community members undergoing code enforcement were living in their RVs as their primary shelter. 

When Lt. Murphy began to reply to Council Member Stone that “under no circumstances can we compare what we would do at a camping site,” for an instant I had a sense of hope. The prior part of her presentation had been discouraging. But I thought for that moment that Lt. Murphy was going to acknowledge how much harder packing and unpacking is with a lifestyle that necessitates a person or persons – for whatever reasons – having to live 24/7 in an RV with their whole life, belongings, and discards, for the unforeseeable future contained in and around it, than it is for people engaging in recreational camping.

Unfortunately this was not the case. Instead, Lt. Murphy described that lifestyle of living in an RV parked on the street as one that is more just like stopping for the night on the way to your camping destination. She alleged this as if no one living in their RVs has materials in them that need to be outside, either to be out of the way for them to move around within the RV or to gain access to items for using them indoors or outdoors, and as if no one living in RVs would ever intend to remain stationary for longer than the 24 hr. code imposed in other locations in our state.

Also, Lt. Murphy’s description did not seem consistent with body cam footage I have seen of previous enforcement actions by the City’s former Code Enforcement Officer related to RVs, where numerous RVs had many items out on the street, for their pets, or materials they were working with, or chairs, etc. However, I do look forward to viewing some of Lt. Murphy’s body cam encounters in the near future, as well.

I hope you will all listen to this IChange Justice podcast and the account of homeless experiences of Nissa and her husband, and their five children who were living with them, in relation to living in a mobile home. Her descriptions highlight some of the many types of challenges individuals and families living in this situation can encounter, including issues of storage and the essentials you need to survive and care for each other. Nissa’s account is one of many that makes a strong case for the need to provide solutions to help support people who need to live in their vehicles and until we have services that help them to not have to live in their vehicles.   https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy83MjEzMjZhNC9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw/episode/NTI4YTBiMWMtZTJkYS00NGM5LWJjZjMtOGNhYjU4ZTc4NzZi?sa=X&ved=0CAUQkfYCahcKEwjAqprCp8n2AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQQQ

Secondly, I want to address the issue of Lt. Murphy, who is in one of the more powerful positions that exist in the City of Bellingham, indicating that she feels it is important for people to be working together on the type of actions that will help people in need of homeless services, and yet also indicating there are “forces who push against,” which apparently are people who Council Members should not be listening to. Lt. Murphy had said, prior to this: 

“HOT is – I have never had a group of people who poured their hearts into it as much as they do. And it really pains me when I see some of our activist advocates really paint them in a bad light or be negative, because in my opinion, if you have a heart for humanity and you have a heart for doing this work, then whatever someone can do or is doing that is putting folks in the right direction or helping people, that should be celebrated. But instead, we have a group of people who do nothing but tear down the official advocacy that our City has.”

I do not know who, specifically, Lt. Murphy is talking about here when refers to activist advocates.  But it is alarming to me that no City Council Members were publicly challenging this portrait of activists advocating for community members who are unsheltered and unhoused as being people who “do nothing but tear down the official advocacy that our City has.” I do know, according to video recordings on Facebook, that when Lt. Murphy has come in contact with a couple of activist advocates, after a period of her being informative which calmed the discussion down, she has become argumentative and did not manage to demonstrate further deescalation techniques, except the one of ultimately walking away. 

Meanwhile, most of the activists I am aware of, even if some are confrontational or focused on identifying gaps sometimes, frequently seek out government officials and other partners to work in solidarity with them and help them to have better skills to provide care for their community. Most of the activists I am aware of have a heart for humanity and have a heart for doing community work – so it would actually seem that whatever they can do and are doing that is putting folks in the right direction and helping people should also, and equally, be celebrated.

I have written to all of you and have written blog posts pointing out the barriers to equity that this kind of generalized accusation and marginalizing presents. It is counter-productive to the productive relationships with community members that I have heard Council Members indicate they desire, for them to generalize in a negative way about what activists do and/or seek to have their voices be cast out. 

Without activists who have both been critical of and worked in partnership with local government agencies: we would not have many of the homeless solutions we now have; we would not have a Racial Equity Commission; we would not have an Immigration Advisory Board; the City Council would not have at least one of their Council Members. By standing up for activists and for people with lived experience with trauma and persecution – like you stand up for each other and for your staff members – and by welcoming activists to actually have equal footing and the same esteem as all of your staff and partners, it can begin to make reparations toward building trust with those who have been oppressed and toward establishing cooperative relationships that don’t fear criticism, and bring wide-ranging effective solutions. 

Sincerely, 

Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: ccmail@cob.org <ccmail@cob.org>; Hannah E. Stone <hestone@cob.org>; Kristina Michele <kmichele8543@gmail.com>; Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>; Hollie A. Huthman <hahuthman@cob.org>; ehwilliams@cob.org <ehwilliams@cob.org>; Daniel C. Hammill <dchammill@cob.org>; Lisa A. Anderson <laanderson@cob.org>

Cc: mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; council@co.whatcom.wa.us <council@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>