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Winter Haven Tent Community Opens in Bellingham

By On
• In Bellingham,

Would you sleep outside in a tent during the winter? I certainly couldn’t. Fortunately, we are having a relatively mild winter in the Pacific Northwest this year. But, even with warmer-than-usual winter temperatures, most of us would choose the comfort of sleeping inside rather than in a tent outdoors. Hundreds of people sleep outside every night around Bellingham and Whatcom County. The Lighthouse Mission does a great job sheltering people each night in their downtown Bellingham facility. But the Mission is not a good solution for some homeless folks. Some people don’t want to follow the Mission’s rules and some just don’t get a good night’s sleep there. Others don’t want to line up to wait for a sleeping spot or have to pack up their belongings and leave in the morning. Some homeless people have jobs and need a more permanent housing solution.

Enter HomesNow.org’s Winter Haven tent community. For a year and 9 months, Bellingham non-profit HomesNOW! has been asking Mayor Linville and the Bellingham City Council for permission to run a secure temporary tent encampment in the winter months. HomesNOW! organized a Camp Out on the lawn in front of Bellingham’s City Hall in December 2017 that lasted for 17 days. The Camp Out was to bring attention to the need for a secure tent encampment and other issues faced by the homeless. After repeated visits to City Council meetings and discussions with the mayor and City Council, a permit was issued for a temporary tent encampment. Called Winter Haven, the camp behind City Hall at 210 Lottie St. can provide shelter for up to 40 people for 90 days this winter. The permit allows Winter Haven to operate until early April.

Although the city would allow 40 residents at Winter Haven, HomesNOW! plans to keep the total number of residents under 30. Currently 22 people have been approved for shelter there. The approval process includes an application, a background check by the Bellingham Police Department, and an interview with a social worker.

The site includes bathrooms, use of the HomesNOW! shower truck, drinking water, an outdoor kitchen, garbage and recycling containers, as well as access to social services. The tents are set up on raised wooden platforms for more comfort and warmth.

The City of Bellingham has new rules in place for temporary homeless shelters. Winter Haven must follow these public health and safety rules.

In addition to the Winter Haven application process and Bellingham Police Department background check, these rules include:

▪ No drug or alcohol use for people living in the camp.

▪ Onsite supervision 24 hours a day provided by a HomesNOW! board member or a volunteer who isn’t living on site.

▪ Security measures such as video cameras that will be provided by the city, as well as lighting and fencing.

▪ No children younger than 18 can stay overnight unless they are accompanied by a parent or a guardian.

▪ Open flames or fires are banned.

▪ Registered sex offenders, people who are required to register as a sex offender, and people who have active warrants will be barred from the encampment.

▪ A HomesNOW! board member is required to meet with city staff each week to discuss any issues at the camp.

The city can close the site immediately if any crime is committed, police or fire chiefs believe there is a danger to campers or the community, or the permit provisions
are violated.

The Winter Haven residents I have spoken with say they feel safe at Winter Haven and appreciate being in a community setting. They are happy to have a tent to call home for now. Residents are cooking meals together, keeping the site clean and running well, and have elected members to self-govern. The residents also greatly appreciate the support of the city and community members who are volunteering and donating food, bedding, monetary donations, and more. Although the City has generously provided use of the property and video security cameras, the costs to set-up and maintain the camp are handled by HomesNOW! via donations received through their ongoing fundraising efforts.

HomesNOW! President Jim Peterson is pleased with how smoothly things are going at Winter Haven. Once homeless himself, Jim knows how important safe housing is for people to be able to continue to improve their lives. The goal is to help at least half of the residents of Winter Haven find permanent housing. There is currently a waiting list for Winter Haven. The longer-term goal for HomesNOW! is to create tiny home communities to house the homeless.

HomesNOW! is an all-volunteer non-profit. Individual and corporate donors are helping support Winter Haven. Ferndale company G.R. Plume built sturdy wood picnic tables and benches for the Winter Haven dining tent. Scrap-It Recycling in Ferndale donated use of fencing. To join the many people supporting Winter Haven, please visit www.HomesNow.org or their active Facebook page for volunteers: www.facebook.com/groups/HomesNOWvolunteers

About Lisa E. Papp

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Jan 22, 2018

Lisa is a long-term resident of Washington state and Whatcom County. She is a solar energy advisor helping commercial building owners and homeowners in Washington, other U.S. states, and [...]

Comments by Readers

Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

I appreciate that this opportunity has been offered for those that are down and out, and are supposedly clean. It’s a start. The real problem though, lies in the balance of the homeless population that help make Bellingham’s weekly police report the ~14 pages long beast it is.  Word gets out when one declares their city “a sanctuary city” even though it’s not directly relative to the homeless issue.  On the down low, cities all across the US rub their hands together, purchase their repeat criminal homeless druggie drunks one way bus tickets to OUR city, and wipe their hands of huge safety concern and expense. Then our homeless services and police forces are overloaded and more money is requested, and yet again more come as national news announces Bellingham approves more money for the homeless. Pretty soon our city is overun with (more) crime, violence, and murder by a homeless population that much of needs to be in rehab, mental institutions, or jail.  Back to the others though, such as those in winter haven, I’m actually curious who they are and what their stories are. Do they work, but are homeless due to our excessive housing costs? Are they disabled physically or mentally and unable to work?    

   

 

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 15, 2019

Ryan,

Would you provide our readers with the stats to back up your claim about the one way bus tickets and the influx of homeless to this city because of our policies.  I have heard this on several occasions but have never once been provided with the actual data.

Dick

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Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

Dick,  here is some articles to check out. There are endless articles on google. New York, Miami, Portland, San Fran, all kinds of places bus their homeless out to “better opportunities”. Reading and seeing between the lines required here.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/dec/20/bussed-out-america-moves-homeless-people-country-study

https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/portland-begins-sending-homeless-people-to-other-cities-including-seattle/296353382

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lisa E. Papp

Jan 15, 2019

Ryan - Thank you for  reading and for your comments.  Bellingham is not busing homeless people into the area. When surveying the homeless people here, most of them are from our area in the first place  Non-profits like the Lighthouse Mission and HomesNow do their own fundraising and are not taking City money. Yes, there is a problem with crime which is not caused solely by homeless people.

The residents of Winterhaven include people on disability, one full-time student who cannot afford housing in Bellingham, and some with full-time jobs.  Some were living in their cars prior to joining Winter Haven.
~ Lisa 

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 15, 2019

Ryan,

Reading between the lines is not stats.  Those articles suggest a phenomenon but according to the last report on the homeless here in Whatcom County (page 17):

“Geographic distribution: location of previous residence:

About  two-thirds  of  homeless  households  had  their  last  stable  housing  in  Whatcom  County.  That  statistic  has  been  fairly  stable  since  before  our  community  began  major  new  investments  toward  ending  homelessness.  Some  people  think  that  adding  more  housing  services  will  attract  homeless  people  from  other  locales,  but  the  data  do  not  support that assumption. More  than  half   of households  (70%) who reported  that their last stable housing was in Whatcom County said they  had previously  lived  in Bellingham. The  next most frequent locations were   Ferndale,  Maple Falls, Blaine, and Lynden.”

 

 

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Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

Lisa,

I know Bellingham wouldn’t bus homeless here, but other cities bus their homeless problems out to other cities and I’d guess we are recieving some?    Pretend you are a mayor somewhere with several repeat offender homeless people with drug/mental/criminal/violence issues. These people are causing problems in your city obviously, have no money to pay fines, and welcome a night in jail for the free room and board. Their rap sheets are pages long. Your citizens want their city to be safe, your police are tied up dealing with them, maybe in the meantime someone is assaulted raped or murdered. The state and feds have failed in getting them into rehab or mental institutions and the justice system is just a revolving door for them. The only option you’ve got, is to give them a bus ticket somewhere else. 

As for the residents of winter haven which are an exception to what I’ve said above, that is a sad reality and proof of our local governments failure to act to accomodate our areas growth with adequate housing.  We aren’t topped out here, we have space for more housing, and we have the technology to develop more cleanly with minimal environmental impact. There is even grants to be had and incentives to build developments with units affordable by the average families, which have been utilized ZERO times here since 2014 if I remember correctly. Why students, workers, and the disabled have to be homeless while we only allow one Mcmansion per 5-10 acres instead, is beyond me.

I am not placinng all the crime upon the homeless of course, but if you take a look at the offenses and where they occur, there is a pattern and there is sure ALOT more crime than there used to be even measured per-1000.  

 

 

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Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

Thank you for the link and the #‘s Dick. 70% locals is more than I expected, but still leaves 30% that aren’t from here and that’s nothing to laugh at. If the 30% number of “outsider” homeless represents our growth of our homeless populaton in the last 2 years? Thats nearly a 50% increase.  I do believe that its a misconception that offering more homeless services increases the homeless population, but that may be all it takes( “Look, Bellingham has better handouts”) for some municiaplity elseware to convince their “problem homeless” to take the one way bus ticket. It’s cold and wet here more often than not, and I could sure think of alot better places to go if I was to find myself homeless.

I speak for many B’ham residents when I say that I don’t feel safe here due to the increase in “problem homeless”, and there is alot of horror stories on the news related to the homeless that prove things could get much worse. For example, in areas of San Franscisco, there is so much poop in the streets/on sidewalks that someone came up with the “snapcrap” app so that pedestrians can report poop/needles and other biohazards to the city.

 

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Tim Paxton

Jan 15, 2019

Q: If WWU provided more dorm housing for its 16,000 students would that help lower housing costs?

Q: If AirBNB’s were banned from Bellingham residential neighborhoods, would that make a difference? 

 

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Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

WWU is, almost single-handedly, the problem as far as simple student count. About 2 years ago it was stated there was more students alone than there was rental “beds” in the entire city of Bellingham.  

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Jon Humphrey

Jan 15, 2019

Lisa thanks for this article. HomesNow is a great organization. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the city took years to do anything significant about homelessness (even though vacant public buildings were available and people were freezing to death). Also, HomesNow still can’t build tiny homes due to zoning even though their management of this tent city shows that they are more than capable of doing it safely. The current council and administration continue taking their time to really address homelessness, while housing prices and the taxes on the necessity of housing soar, which will cause more homelessness. I hope we all keep this in mind as we enter the mayoral election season in 2019. With the exception of Hannah, everyone on the council and the mayor sat by while people needlessly suffered. 

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Ryan Knowlton

Jan 15, 2019

I like the tiny homes idea and think it should be given some serious thought and space to happen, and even on many scales from really small tiny homes for the homeless to the trailerable ones which I’m sure would fill a much needed gap for many students and workers. 

The biggest thing that is going to help get something like this going is how HomesNow’s management assures that such places are going to be housing safe, background checked people, and not opening up druggie/crime/booze sex offender central, otherwise everyones going to take the NIMBY stance and nothing is going to happen.

As far as larger trailerable homes, that is really simple enough. Fast track some standards to open things up for some new serviced RV park type places to go in so people have a place to put these things.   

I agree with Jon, housing needs to be addressed and not just taking care of the homeless. One would think it’s simple common sense that the “pyramid” of workers poor to rich, works because from a humble apartment to a mansion, everyone has a place to live, can afford to live, and therefore can work at jobs needed to fully serve a community.  Instead we tax and tax and prop up low income earners with subsidized housing while trying to push a zero growth agenda and all that is going to do is slowly replace us with richer and richer people. They are estimating 60% growth here in the forthcoming years! While I am less than thrilled with that, like many, I fear us turning into a Vancouver, BC, where positions like Nurses, Teachers, Firefighters, Construction workers, you name it, go unfilled because there is no affordable housing for them.  It’s already been stated that 87% of the working class can’t afford a home in Bellingham and 42% live in poverty, and that’s completely unacceptable.

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Konrad Lau

Jan 19, 2019

As long as we insist on giving benefits to those who have to do nothing to earn them, the homeless will continue to flood into our aera.

Today, I read an article in the Seattle Times voicing alarm over the 31% increase in crime in the Sodo area…in one year. The article pointed out the rampant public use of drugs (injectible and otherwise), tents and RVs.

We all saw Breaking Bad and know that wherever criminals gather, criminal activity burgeons.

What does any rational person expect will happen in a year after an authorised Jungle is erected in Bellingham?

At least the results will be out in front of the entire community, surrounding the Court House.

I see this not as compassion for the down-trodden but as capitulation to the criminals.

Who among us believes the number of those in the encampment will stay below 40?

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 20, 2019

Mr. Lau,

Perhaps you missed the reference I made in a comment above to the actual data with respect to where the homeless in Bellingham come from… mostly from Bellingham.  To wit: 

“Geographic distribution: location of previous residence:

About  two-thirds  of  homeless  households  had  their  last  stable  housing  in  Whatcom  County.  That  statistic  has  been  fairly  stable  since  before  our  community  began  major  new  investments  toward  ending  homelessness.  Some  people  think  that  adding  more  housing  services  will  attract  homeless  people  from  other  locales,  but  the  data  do  not  support that assumption. More  than  half   of households  (70%) who reported  that their last stable housing was in Whatcom County said they  had previously  lived  in Bellingham. The  next most frequent locations were   Ferndale,  Maple Falls, Blaine, and Lynden.”

The homeless deserve our help not because they have earned it (whatever that means) but because they are human beings, just like you and I.   Perhaps you are not aware that among those, upon whom you heap your scorn, in this encampment behind city hall are actually people who have jobs but are unable to find affordable housing.  

You reference to this site as a “jungle” is a shameful and gratuitous slap to these individuals and emits more than a faint odor of racism. 

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Konrad Lau

Jan 20, 2019

To the contrary, I know where the data currently points.

My contention (and I believe it to be well founded based on other citiys’ uncontrolled growing homeless populations) is that whenever nice programs, repleat with benifits and lax on regulations pop up, the word rapidly filters through the homeless community and before long there will be social immigrents arriving from Burlington, Mt. Vernon, Everett, Seattle and points beyond.

San Francisco is an excellent case in point and many folks in our area look to California for guidance in these matters. i would think it foolish to immolate our fair city at the alter of nameless confusion in an attempt to make ourselves fell better about our prosperity.

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Lisa E. Papp

Jan 20, 2019

Thanks for all the comments!
What works in other places…
Provide housing - It sounds an obvious solution to the problem of homelessness. There is, however, nuance to Finland’s policy.

In many countries, homeless people are generally not given housing until they have solved or been treated for the problems that got them onto the streets in the first place, whether they are financial, health or addiction issues.

But Finland has a ‘housing first’ initiative, which sees rough sleepers given permanent accommodation regardless of their progress.

‘When you have shelters you can have shelter from the storm but you need a home to lead a decent life,’ Juha Kaakinen, chief executive of the Y Foundation, told Euronews.

‘You need to have housing, it’s your basic human right and then you can start solving the issues with the help of professionals if needed.’ 

Get rid of homeless shelters - Finland has massively increased its housing stock — some of it supported — to help get people off the streets.

It has coincided with a huge reduction in the number of temporary homeless shelters.”

www.euronews.com/2018/12/28/q-how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-homelessness-a-speak-to-finland

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Konrad Lau

Jan 21, 2019

Finland also has a tremendous work ethic that frowns (socially) on lay-abouts.

They actually fought a shooting war against the Soviets just prior to World War 2 and lost a goodly piece of their country to communist invasion which they never got back. A large percentage of their military was killed in that conflict “The Winter War”.

Finland’s poverty rate and population is miniscule when compared to the United States.

Not a very good parallel…

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