McGill points to services as solutions for crises in our community: response to new Bellingham public drug use law / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to view the public comment of Northwest Youth Services Executive Director Jason McGill that was given at the April 10, 2023 Bellingham City Council meeting at 01:44:10 mark.

April 13, 2023 Dena Jensen

For some folks who may have missed the public comment of the Executive Director for Northwest Youth Services, Jason McGill, at Monday’s 4/10/23 Bellingham City Council meeting, I am posting it here. It was the second to the last comment in a nearly two hour public comment session that night. It was fitting to have his comment and one from a student and renter who is on rental assistance from Northwest Youth Services close it out.

Just prior to public comment that night the Council Members had approved passing a slightly amended version of the Mayor’s ordinance making public drug use in Bellingham illegal. 

Relevant to Jason’s remarks, some of the people commenting during the session had remarked how the City needed the ordinance and other police action because they needed to be putting children first, and some shared stories of those they had lost to addiction. Of course, some folks had spoken against the ordinance too. 

Additionally, Council President Lilliquist had shared during Council discussion of the ordinance that he had been offering funding for services that day. However, the only offer I heard him make was to the Whatcom County Health Department for the LEAD program and he was told by the Health Dept. director that they could not accept City funds for that program since it operates only via a specific funding source(from the federal government, I believe), and also, therefore, it cannot prioritize providing LEAD services to one city over another. 

Here is Jason McGill’s public comment that starts at 1:44:10 on the recording.

“Hello, It’s 10:16 p.m., so I’m only gonna be up here for probably a minute. After having to sit there enduring disrespectful comments from our little citizens here, I’m kind of riled up right now. 

“So – but I just wanna say I had a whole speech planned out for this, but, you know, it’s already been passed. So the one thing – couple of things I do want to say is that you talk about we want to fund things that are preventing addiction. Well, I’m the Executive Director for Northwest Youth Services, and I’m proud to be serving in that role.

“We are heavily underfunded. Various service areas, and have been for many, many years. One of the service areas we offer this community is called Teen Court.

“We receive $20,000 from this city. Another $20,000 from the County. That’s it. That’s our entire Teen Court funding that we receive from this community. So you tell me, what are we supposed to do with $40,000? Doesn’t fund a full-time position, I assure you of that.

“So here’s a solution, fund Teen Court. You keep talking about GRACE and LEAD, great programs for this community. Did you all know that Northwest Youth Services has an outreach team? Guess how much the City funds? Zero. Guess how much the County funds? Zero. Guess how much the State funds? Zero. 

“There’s a solution for you. Let’s fund these things now. We also offer an adolescent shelter. We do get funding for that from the City, thankfully. 

“And we have been getting funding that’s not substantially enough to do what we are asking the community to do, and that is step up and invest in resources and services that actually fund things to prevent addiction, to fund things that prevent chronic homelessness, and to actually serve our kids that we all keep talking about in this room right now – that we actually fund it.

“And then, lastly, you’re wrong, this is a war on drugs. This is perpetuating the war on drugs. I, too, have had family members who have been addicts. But in their addiction, some recovered, some did not. One – one died: at the hands of police officers. 

“So, again, you tell me how is this not a war on drugs? And it is an assault on the unhoused community here.

“But I appreciate what you’re trying to do here. I appreciate that you’re trying. You’re trying. You’re trying. I do. 

“And now it’s time to actually fund the services that we are actually providing. Not just $20,000, because that’s not going to do anything. We need the necessary resources. Thank you. Actually ended up taking all my time.”