Recent Articles

Public Support for Alternatives to the Public Market as a Homeless Shelter

John and Janet Crews guest write how the Public Market building is in the middle of small downtown businesses. The mayor, after a secret process, now rushes this issue to the council on Tuesday.

John and Janet Crews guest write how the Public Market building is in the middle of small downtown businesses. The mayor, after a secret process, now rushes this issue to the council on Tuesday.


John and Janet Crews guest write. The Crews family has been involved in downtown Bellingham since the end of WWII when Jack Crews, partnered to open Luke and Crews Floor Covering on Railroad Ave. Over the years, Luke and Crews combined a series of small older buildings extending along Railroad Ave. which have become homes to small family businesses. After Jack’s death in 1987, our family committed to continuing Jack’s vision for Railroad Ave.

- - -

As members of the North Downtown Property and Business Owners Working Group, we would like to share some of our views related to the new low-barrier shelter proposed for the Public Market building on Cornwall Ave.

We do not believe that the Public Market site is a reasonable area for a low-barrier shelter, as confirmed by the City’s own 2018 report. Our focus in communicating to the mayor’s office and city and county council members has not been on trying to stop the creation of a new drop-in shelter. Instead, we are trying to re-frame the question by suggesting and supporting alternative sites, along with practical and financial support for a temporary shelter. There are sites available on government-owned property that would not threaten the survival of downtown businesses already struggling on the brink of collapse due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

We understand that the recent coronavirus pandemic has hit homeless people very hard, and that there is an immediate need for a suitable temporary shelter as required by state-mandated Covid-19 restrictions. We understand that homelessness is a problem we must address and solve as a community with fairness for all.

However, families that own small businesses, as well as their employees and families, are also being hit very hard during the current pandemic and its associated government restrictions, and they, too, are struggling to survive. The thought of our downtown business neighborhood being sacrificed by the City is truly scary for small-business families.

These small-business owners have tough memories from fifteen years ago when this area of downtown was overrun with disenfranchised individuals resulting in people urinating and defecating in business doorways in front of customers, having graffiti painted on their storefronts and rocks thrown through their windows, having drug dealing and prostitution openly taking place in front of their shops, and having customers too afraid to get out of their cars or walk to businesses.

Through the courage of many small business owners, the dedication of the Bellingham Police officers, and support from City government, this situation was eventually turned around to create a safe and thriving business community over the past twelve years. To add the bleak possibility of the previous problems returning on top of what downtown is already dealing with due to Covid-19 is an unfair burden, short-sighted, and could lead to increased unemployment and financial stress for the citizens of Bellingham.

For the City to see a vibrant and healthy downtown re-emerge from the current pandemic with the ability to support jobs and families, it must not throw fuel on the current pandemic stresses by putting a low-barrier shelter within the boundaries of the Central Business District. We commend the City’s recently proposed efforts to make the new shelter a safe and well-controlled environment.

However, the safety and security measures that we have seen proposed are limited to the shelter site. The only assurance the City has offered for the downtown businesses, shops, and restaurants is to enforce existing laws against sitting or lying on a sidewalk. While being well intentioned, this addresses about one percent of the problems that may descend on downtown.

On Tuesday, City Management is presenting the City Council with a lease for the proposed Public Market property as an either/or proposition: Either use the property they are proposing, or vote for no shelter. Either agree to subject downtown small businesses, their employees, and downtown visitors to social elements that are directly or indirectly detrimental, and sometimes overtly hostile to small businesses’ survival; or vote in a way that appears to be unsympathetic to the homeless. We believe that this is a false choice, and that there are better alternatives which we are actively working to support.

Our current focus as a working group has been on trying to re-frame this either/or question by supporting alternative sites, along with offering practical and financial support for building a shelter on these more appropriate government-owned sites that would provide the necessary shelter without threatening the survival of downtown family businesses.

During the most recent City Council meeting, City Management stated that government-owned properties were indeed an option, but they felt that these options involved higher costs and may not meet the necessary timeline. We believe that, through recent community efforts, both of these issues are no longer primary concerns. We are working with a prominent local contractor who firmly believes that he can meet the necessary timeline, and we believe that the additional costs can be mitigated or reversed by the generous community support that is outlined below.

Over the past few years, to its credit, the City has been actively searching for a permanent location for a drop-in shelter. Each of the options they looked at had issues that precluded them from being chosen.

The current Covid-19 situation has changed the essential nature of that search to now being the need for an emergency temporary shelter location for the duration of the pandemic. We believe that the temporary nature of the current crisis should allow the use of existing government properties that were judged not to be feasible for a permanent solution.

We are supporting locations in Old Town and in the vicinity of the courthouse that would be much more suitable for a temporary shelter, without pitting the needs of the homeless against the welfare of downtown business families and their employees’ families.

There is no question that each of the alternative properties that we are supporting involves challenges. However, in this crisis situation we believe that the City has the power and ability to overcome these obstacles, as illustrated by the fact that their proposal to the City Council for the Public Market location includes an unusual request to exempt the proposed shelter from Washington State Building Code requirements due to the urgency of the Covid-19-induced shelter crisis. We believe that this same creative crisis management can, and should, be used to make other, much more suitable, government-owned sites available.

If the upcoming decision-making process is going to take into account the mental health aspects of a shelter’s location, which it should, it is very clear that the lot north of the courthouse is vastly superior to the Public Market site. There are numerous research studies which show that being near nature and greenery has a very positive effect on mental health and depression. The Courthouse Annex site is surrounded by trees on three sides, and there are tree-lined pathways that lead down to Maritime Heritage Park. The Public Market site offers blacktop, busy streets, and alleyways. If any consideration is going to be given to the mental welfare of the people using this shelter, there is no question that the Courthouse Annex site is a vastly superior choice.

In order to aid in this process, the community is offering support to the City in the forms of a prominent local construction company offering to build a temporary shelter within the needed time-frame at no markup, building suppliers who have offered to supply materials at their cost, engineering firms who have offered to supply the needed work at no costs, and our working group has offered to pitch in $50,000 of private money to help fund the project. Since the sites we are proposing are government-owned, there would be no leasing costs to the City.

We realize that the solutions we are proposing will certainly involve some challenges for the City to move them forward, but the fact that this is a temporary use during a pandemic crisis should empower overcoming those challenges. There are certain challenges with each of the sites we are supporting, but therein lies the chance for government to fulfill its role of trying to help all of its citizens, without unduly burdening others.

Up until this point, there has been a tendency to view this as a choice of casting the burden on either the homeless, or on downtown small-business families and their employees’ families. This is an opportunity for local government to step up and use its land resources and emergency powers to support the well-being of both groups, and to provide the best solution for all citizens by taking the burden upon themselves at the small cost of working through the obstacles, and providing use of government-controlled land on a temporary basis.

This is a chance for local government to show compassion for all their citizens, not just one group or another. We are asking the City Council to briefly delay their decision on Tuesday, and ask the City and County to find ways to make one of their own sites available for the benefit of their citizens during this crisis.

Comments by Readers

Chris Renoud

Jun 15, 2020

Thank you John and Janet Crew.  Your article is right on, the city is setting up the meeting on Tuesday to look like if you don’t support the Public Market location you don’t support the homeless, far from it.  They are turning their backs on the downtown and all of the dedicated small businesses that are already struggling to survive the virus and now they may very well put the nail in their coffin, all with no public input, non-transparent and a process that is not true to our values or the standard of vetting and public input that is the cornerstone of our democracy.  City Council and Mayer Seth, please slow down and consider other perfect temporary sites.


Public Support for Alternatives to the Public Market as a Homeless Shelter

By Guest WriterOn Jun 14, 2020

John and Janet Crews guest write how the Public Market building is in the middle of small downtown businesses. The mayor, after a secret process, now rushes this issue to the council on Tuesday.

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Mainstream Media won’t Say this about Hong Kong

By Ho See-wingOn Jun 13, 2020

Hong Kong freedom protestors are against Black Lives Matters protestors?? Our USA corporate media have not told us that. Ho See-wing links us to more news sources.

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Mayor Seth Fleetwood Lacks Understanding of Transparency

By John ServaisOn Jun 10, 2020

Mayor Seth Fleetwood staff has fumbled their secretive effort to provide a replacement shelter to replace the Bellingham High School use.

11 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Gridlock In The Making - An Update

By Dick ConoboyOn Jun 07, 2020

A developer’s meeting with Samish neighbors sheds more light on the Samish View Development.

7 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Opening Our Streets – A Golden Opportunity

By Stoney BirdOn Jun 06, 2020

How and why we can change the use of many urban streets to activities other than exclusive use for cars and trucks. They are our public spaces for use as we see best.

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Early-Warning Covid-19 Alert for San Juan County and Other Seasonal Resort Communities

By David A. SwansonOn Jun 02, 2020

Summer visitors are likely to bring COVID-19 to previously unaffected or lightly affected seasonal communities requiring a model for risk evaluation and adaptive responses.

6 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Bellingham Herald Reprints Seattle Times Article - But With Edit

By John ServaisOn May 29, 2020

How the Herald reports Bellingham news by reprinting articles from the Seattle Times - but cannot even do that honestly.

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Gridlock in the Making

By Dick ConoboyOn May 29, 2020

With three apartment complexes (about 700 tenants ) added to the congested area around the Samish/I-5 bridge, the situation is about to get “interesting”.

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago

ACLU Files Suit for the Firing of Dr. Ming Lin

By John ServaisOn May 28, 2020

The ACLU this morning filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination of Dr Lin, the emergency room doctor who spoke out about lack of safe procedutes at St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham.

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Would Adjudication Resolve Nooksack River Water Issues?

By Eric HirstOn May 19, 2020

Having certainty about one’s water rights would allow users to negotiate with greater confidence than they now have.

CityView Apartment Development - Update V

By Dick ConoboyOn May 18, 2020

Opponents of this project await a public meeting before the city’s Planning Commission, possibly in June.

Corner of Elwood and Lincoln Soon to Be a Wee Tad Crowded

By Dick ConoboyOn May 16, 2020

Elwood Edge Apartments at Elwood and Lincoln will add 154 to 186 tenants to the already congested area at the Samish Way overpass. But don’t go away. There is more.

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

The Testing of Three Northwest Counties

By Michael RiordanOn May 14, 2020

An opinionated review of how the novel coronavirus struck Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom Counties, with a focus on the lessons learned.

Politicizing COVID-19

By Ho See-wingOn May 12, 2020

An analysis of the emerging China bashing for political purposes and why it is so misplaced. A Chinese-American, who grew up in Hong Kong and lived many years in Texas, gives us his perspective.

6 comments, most recent 1 year ago

The Pandemic And A Depression

By Guest WriterOn May 12, 2020

Our guest writer takes us through an explanation of inflation and deflation in the time of COVID-19

3 comments, most recent 1 year ago

CityView Dormitory Complex - Please Don’t Approve This Proposal

By Alex McLeanOn May 10, 2020

A straightforward assessment of the CityView dormitory apartment complex proposal.

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

MintTheCoin - Money for everyone

By Guest WriterOn May 08, 2020

Our guest writer makes a case for the minting of one or more trillion dollar coins as a funding mechanism in the time of COVID-19 and a collapsing economy.

18 comments, most recent 1 year ago

The Lack of Containment Measures: Does It Constitute Senicide?

By David A. SwansonOn May 07, 2020

Senicide is a term not oft used but it is making a resurgence in this time of pandemic.

3 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Still a Dormitory, Still in Non-Compliance

By Guest WriterOn May 06, 2020

A comprehensive overview of the CityView private dormitory complex proposed for the Puget Neighborhood.

9 comments, most recent 1 year ago

WWU - Western - Dislikes Trees

By John ServaisOn May 04, 2020

Western Washington University seems to hate trees as they remove 48 more beautiful fir trees this week from the campus.

9 comments, most recent 1 year ago