October 31, 2022 Dena Jensen
On Friday of last week, I had posted on Facebook about a recent article in Cascadia Daily News, “Bike lanes to displace homeless campers on Cornwall. At the time of my post, I was just responding to information in the article. Since that time, I have had a chance to listen to a recording of the Bellingham City Council Members’ October 24, 2022 Committee of the Whole discussion of the proposal to eliminate parking on portions of four Bellingham streets, including the section of Cornwall Avenue that is near the Bellingham waterfront.
City Council Members voted 6-0 – with Council Member Michael Lilliquist abstaining – at their evening regular Council meeting to “to recommend approval of the removal of on-street parking along sections of W. Illinois Street from Sunset to Lynn, Meridian Street from East Victor to West Illinois, Girard Street from Broadway to Young, and Cornwall Avenue from Laurel to Pine with Eldridge Avenue from Broadway to Nequalicum as a one-year pilot.”
I wrote an email to Bellingham and Whatcom County officials this morning about that 10/24/22 discussion related to the community need for emergency winter shelter. I am including a copy of that email in this post. In addition, I received a prompt response to one of the two questions in my email from City Council Member Lilliquist who expressed concern about the potential of spreading misleading information regarding the work of homeless services outreach workers, and specifically those on the Opportunity Council’s HOT team.
In light of his concern, I am also including in this post Council Member Lilliquist’s response and the email I sent back to him.
One thing I do want to clarify first though is that Council Member Lilliquist’s answer to me did fail to reflect some nuance of which I am aware regarding the HOT team’s involvement in 2020, at the early stages of the COVID pandemic when things were in flux, in providing information to the City of Bellingham’s Encampment Clean-up and Code Enforcement Officer at the time who was employed by the Bellingham Police Department, so here is a link to a blog post that contains some of that context: https://noisywatersnw.com/2020/09/12/she-comes-and-goes-addressing-the-camps-who-decides-homeless-camp-clean-ups-for-the-city-of-bellingham-noisy-waters-northwest/
Below is the email I sent officials, along with my email exchange with Council Member Lilliquist:
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2022 8:36:12 AM
Subject: Displacement creates a stronger need for increased emergency sheltering options
Dear Bellingham City Council, Mayor Fleetwood, Whatcom County Council, Executive Sidhu, and Health Department Director Lautenbach:
November is nearly here and Base Camp has been officially at and above capacity for about three weeks now.
During this timing, I recently listened to the Bellingham City Council’s Committee of the Whole discussion pertaining to displacing people who are living in vehicles parked on Cornwall Avenue near Bellingham’s waterfront. I appreciated Council Member Lilliquist raising the important points about the negative impacts of displacing these people and bringing forward an amendment that would have at least delayed such action had it been approved, which it was not.
Moreover, the issue is far bigger than just those who will be displaced on Cornwall. And I am asking: have any of the agencies I am addressing in this email taken action to imminently expand services and shelter over this cold weather season, even of the very minimal kind that Council Member Anderson has been suggesting for months, and maybe years now, of providing restrooms, effective trash removal options, and some kind of safe parking, during this time when other critical services remain painfully, and perhaps fatally, absent? (I have acknowledged in a previous email my awareness of the information provided in the presentation from Whatcom County Health Department regarding severe weather plans about a month ago, and I know the City of Bellingham will be possibly be operating a daytime severe weather shelter for a few days as another resource.)
I also wanted to ask, is it the case that individuals in agencies performing outreach services, like those on the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team or those from the Whatcom County Health department, don’t perform outreach to community members unless they are about to be displaced? It has been my understanding that they perform outreach to all areas in our region of which they are aware where there are people living unsheltered and/or homeless.
There were some Council Members making statements at that 10/24/22 meeting that implied people living in vehicles, such as those parked on Cornwall who may have been there for an extended period, wouldn’t have been being approached by outreach workers to be offered and/or receive “touch points” unless enforcement actions begin – which might ultimately result in them losing all or some of their temporary shelter and belongings. In my opinion, this would be a dangerous approach that would contribute to fear and mistrust of those outreach workers.
It is critical that people parking on Cornwall, or living unsheltered anywhere, be receiving contract from the HOT team and the Health Department or other service providers at any time and independent of such coercion. From my viewing of many Bellingham Parking Enforcement videos, very vaguely described and limited homeless service options – with little help to navigate them – are offered by officers in the parking enforcement interactions I have observed, including those cases where people’s vehicles are towed and people are left to find their own resources.
I just received an email last Thursday from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness that contained a link to a 10/26/22 commentary by USICH Director Jeff Olivet, titled, “Collaborate, Don’t Criminalize: How Communities Can Effectively and Humanely Address Homelessness.” In his remarks, Director Olivet provides perspective and resources towards making stronger moves away from criminalizing and punishing homelessness than Bellingham and Whatcom County have made so far. At one point he stated:
“There is no quick or one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness, but best practices have emerged. After studying community responses and collaborating with federal agencies, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness created 7 principles for addressing encampments—the most visible form of homelessness that has intensified the pressure to criminalize. If a community takes the time and makes the investments to implement these principles, more people will be able to move off the streets and into homes.
“At the core of these principles is the need to connect people as rapidly as possible to housing—or low-barrier shelter, if permanent housing is not immediately available. By embracing Housing First—instead of locking people up for struggling to survive—one city saved $2.4 million and housed 1,000 people in a single year. But while housing is the immediate solution, it is not the only solution. To truly solve homelessness, we must provide people with the voluntary supports they need and want, including mental health care and substance use treatment.”
I understand that one of the big reasons not many services are being offered to people who are currently unsheltered in Whatcom County is because there are only a few to offer that actually fit the needs and wants of many of those living unsheltered and in crisis. This has to change, and it is important to effectively engage your community members to do this. Making the change of actually empowering more community members, along with their solutions that will increase well-being for people in crisis and the community at large – instead of resisting or obstructing those solutions – is one of the most powerful and least costly actions you can take.
Please focus on actions that embody the spirit of USICH’s seven principles that Director Olivet pointed out, especially Principle 2: Engage Encampment Residents to Develop Solutions.
I call for you to promptly provide diverse, reliable, safe, and accessible emergency winter sheltering options.
Birch Bay, WA
On Monday, October 31, 2022, 08:46:37 AM PDT, Lilliquist, Michael W. <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
You write, “I also wanted to ask, is it the case that individuals in agencies performing outreach services, like those on the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team or those from the Whatcom County Health department, don’t perform outreach to community members unless they are about to be displaced?”
No, this is not the case, never has been. HOT members go out daily to reach people, and little of that has to do with camp clean up actions. I spent a good part of a day with HOT recently, and nothing involved displacement or even talk of displacement.
Please do not continue the dangerous line that connects HOT to camp clean ups. Although you simply raised the question, others have weaponized it into an accusation that has led to hostility, harm, and discord. Please do what you can to support this critical program. Thank you.
Bellingham City Council
Representative, Ward 6
Per state law RCW 42.56, my incoming and outgoing email messages are public records and are therefore subject to public disclosure requirements.
To: Lilliquist, Michael W. <email@example.com>
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2022, 11:26:32 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Displacement creates a stronger need for increased emergency sheltering options
Dear Council Member Lilliquist:
Thank you for your email response. I had asked the question you quoted in your email because I felt a need to clarify the status of HOT team and other agency outreach efforts due to statements that Council President Stone and Council Member Anderson had made in that 10/24/22 Bellingham City Council Committee of the Whole meeting. When they spoke of the HOT team that day, it had to do with displacement, and my position continues to be that outreach efforts should not be something which we use enforcement efforts as a reason to be able to categorize those efforts as “robust,” or to deliver them at all.
These were the relevant statements from the meeting to which I am referring:
Council President Stone: “But I don’t think – I’m not satisfied with the argument that because it would displace – and I’m not taking issue with the fact that it would, it would displace the RVs that are there, but my hope is that additional resource from the City and our police force, and you know, the HOT team and others to remove RVs from that area, or to help them to relocate are going to increase opportunities for engagement with resources in our community, but otherwise that’s not necessarily happening in as a robust way as it could.”
Council Member Anderson: “I also struggled a lot with this one because obviously there are individuals who have been staying there for a considerable amount of time and I also saw this as an opportunity that the HOT team and other community resources will be able to hopefully impact accessing resources, because often when you’re faced with that decision of I need to move, that might be a pinch point where somebody is willing to engage a little bit more to gain some resources.”
In the part of my email after my question that you quoted, I had sought to make it clear that it has been my understanding that outreach workers perform that outreach to all areas in our region of which they are aware where there are people living unsheltered and/or homeless and that I feel it is dangerous for HOT team members to be associated with enforcement efforts. I also emphasized that I want outreach efforts to be as free as possible from government coercion. I want outreach workers to improve their help to community members in crisis based on engaging encampment residents (as well, as other individuals in crisis) to develop and connect them with services that meet their wants and needs.
Birch Bay, WA
The first email in this blogpost (sent on Monday, October 31, 2022 8:36:12 AM) was sent to the following addresses:
To: CC – Shared Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) <email@example.com>; Stone, Hannah E. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Martens, Kristina M. <email@example.com>; Lilliquist, Michael W. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Williams, Skip H. <email@example.com>; Huthman, Hollie A. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Anderson, Lisa A. <email@example.com>; Hammill, Daniel C. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; MY – email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Todd Donovan <email@example.com>; Kaylee Galloway <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Barry Buchanan <email@example.com>; Carol Frazey <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Kathy Kershner <email@example.com>; Tyler Byrd <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ben Elenbaas <email@example.com>; Satpal Sidhu <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Erika Lautenbach <email@example.com>