[Update 6/7/2022: Several meetings were held on June 2nd on the topic of poor conditions and disruptive behaviors at 22 North. The Director of 22 North, Wendy Lawrence, and the Housing Development and Operations Manager (supervising property management), Adrienne Solenberger, met with representatives the condominium association of the Morse Condos. Another meeting, without the Opportunity Council representatives, was held the same afternoon when about 15 gathered at the Majestic on June 2nd with the newly minted Bellingham Police Chief, Rebecca Mertzig, and Deputy Police Chief, Don Almer. The group included owners of downtown businesses as well as residential neighbors affected by the crime and poor/dangerous living conditions in and near the facilities operated by Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) and the Opportunity Council.
Complaints and comments can be sent to:
It is my understanding that there will be a follow up meeting on the June 16th with NWYS and Opportunity Council, however, the details have not yet been published.]
Signs are that serious and continuous problems exist at 22 North,. It is a place that is supposed to provide “supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness,” according to the website of the Opportunity Council, a partner with Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) in 22 North. But something has gone terribly wrong according to Sheryl Russell, a resident of Morse Square condominiums located on State St. opposite 22 North. Russell wrote to the head of the Opportunity Council, Greg Winter, complaining of bike thefts in her building by individuals who live or frequent 22 North. Russell also stated that tracking technology led to the discovery of a laptop stolen from her building that ended up at 22 North. Morse Square has experienced other break-ins and vandalism. (Her email to Winter can be found under FILES below)
A more disturbing series of incidents involve a marketing intern from the Wild Buffalo. Below is a portion of a statement from the owner of the Wild Buffalo, Craig Jewell. [A full copy is at FILES below]:
"Nathan Knoch, a WWU student about to graduate, is a marketing intern at the Wild Buffalo and had his backpack stolen out of his car in the early morning of Thursday, May 5th, 2022. The contents in his backpack were a MacBook Pro, a Camera, A Lens, and most importantly, a Hard Drive that contained years of work on a documentary he has been putting together for his graduation.
He was able to track the location of his laptop to 1022 N. State St., the 22 North building. He initially went there by himself. The person working there told him that there was nothing that she could do to help because it was a HIPA violation. He called the Bellingham Police Department and two officers showed up. The officers also asked the apartment manager if they could provide them with camera footage but were denied. One of the officers told Nathan a story of two 14-year-old missing girls that were allegedly spotted at the building. The officers were denied any access to footage or any additional information in that incident as well.
When the police officers left, a resident approached Nathan and said that he could get him his computer back for a ‘finder’s fee.’ The resident went upstairs, came back down with his computer and tried to shake him down for money. Nathan ended up giving him $20 (which was all the money he had) and begged for the rest of his belongings back, specifically the hard drive."
More disturbing yet was a description of the conditions inside the building, reportedly seen by Jewell, Knoch, and Zack Fijal, another employee of the Wild Buffalo. Jewell stated he had:
“…witnessed multiple residents opening smoking meth, fentanyl, and drinking inside the lobby and right outside. One resident pulled a gun out of their pocket when I approached them but put it away when I told them what we were there for. ” …
The moment we opened the door to the third floor, all of us were coughing and had to put our shirts over our mouths. I’ve never smelled something so bad in my life. Our best guess was that it was a mixture of meth, fentanyl, and feces.
We knocked on the door and an individual who looked to 15-17 years old came out. I could see into the apartment and there had to have been twenty individuals crammed in there. The room was also filled with smoke and the foul-smelling odor intensified. We told him that all we wanted to get back was the hard drive and that we’d pay for it. He slammed the door in our face. After a couple of minutes, he came back out and took down our numbers. He said, “You have to leave now but I’ll be in touch. It will cost you though.”
As we left the building, Zack ended up throwing up in the parking lot because of how bad the smell was. Nathan and I are just now shaking off our respective migraines."
From the 1st to the 25th of May, 2022, on the 1000 block of State St. where 22 North is located, the Bellingham Police Department have responded to 37 calls, including: thefts, disorderly conduct, juvenile runaways, burglary, suspicious circumstances, trouble with a person, violation of a court order, drug/narcotics violation, felony assault, auto theft, private impound, assist citizen, property found/recovered, malicious mischief, a welfare check, and vehicle prowl. This does not even take into consideration what was reported in the adjacent 900 and 1100 blocks of State St. [Check that reporting on the copy of the police log at FILES below.] Reports I received in Dec 2021, indicated that nearly 400 police incident reports have been associated with 22 North (and the 1000 block of State St) since the building opened in November of 2018. To be up front, I have learned that many 911 calls originate with the staff or residents of 22 North who, at times, do not have the wherewithal to handle the situation. Nonetheless, the need for so many calls from any source is indicative of a persistent problem.
Issues with 22 North were brought to the fore several years ago, when a single family home on 36th St. in the Ridgemont area was purchased so that Northwest Youth Services could move its teenage PAD (Positive Adolescent Development) home from its present spot next to 22 North. Ridgemont residents expressed grave concern given what was known at the time about NWYS lack of ability to operate 22 North and the current PAD. My latest information is that the PAD is still in operation next to 22 North, but is now involved in litigation initiated by the Ridgemont neighborhood with respect to the proposed move to 36th Street.
My concern lies not only with the neighborhood residents and businesses that surround 22 North, but also with the residents of 22 North. As a veteran,* I am especially mindful that five of the units at 22 North come under the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. I have sent copies of the information provided by Jewell and Russell to the Whatcom Health Department. That these veterans may be living in conditions as described in the statement by Craig Jewell is of deep concern, given the veterans' prior service and the mental and physical issues they might be experiencing. My understanding is that local government entities are working with NWYS on this severe problem.
On May 27th, I spent some time on the phone with the head of the Opportunity Council, Greg Winters, who assured me they were well aware of the problems at 22 North, and were already working with the police department and other concerned organizations. He also mentioned that the police department was especially strained in its ability to respond by its personnel losses during COVID. I emphasized to him my doubts about the ability of NWYS to effectively operate, not only their PAD, but 20 of the 40 units in 22 North that are under NWYS supervision. I expressed my consternation that the situation described on the 3rd floor of 22 North, especially in Room 308, was of such an egregious nature that it could not have gone unnoticed by staffers and should have been shut down by the police IMMEDIATELY.
22 North and the PAD are going to be continuing sagas. Stay tuned…