About Karen Steen

A native of New Orleans, Karen has now lived most of her life in the PNW. She worked for 30+ years as a RN/FNP, mostly in community and public health settings; she supports using public health indicators to frame community, social, and economic concerns. She is also a lifelong student of astrology and practiced professionally for six years; her priority astrological interests are geopolitical and historical. Her most recent calling was to provide business administration for an open source hydroponic gardening initiative and regenerative economy.

By: Karen Steen (2)

Base Camp: Sheltering Our Homeless or Importing Problems?

Is our homeless population local or from out-of-town, and at what cost to Bellingham?

Is our homeless population local or from out-of-town, and at what cost to Bellingham?

By

During a recent online discussion about the planned 5-fold expansion of Lighthouse Mission Ministries (LMM), I received this message from a Bellingham resident: 

“Karen two years ago I was on a bus in San Diego while sightseeing. On the radio there was an add for the "light house mission in Bellingham Wa as a place that would help you if you needed it" I heard that add twice in a two day period on what ever radio was piped in to the busses. Definately not the place I expected to hear about Bellingham, WA…. [sic]” 

This account supports demographic findings in the Whatcom County 2020 Annual Homeless Report and Mayor Fleetwood’s reluctant admission last winter at a Puget Neighborhood meeting that most unsheltered homeless living on the streets of Bellingham are NOT locals. This is further confirmed by countless anecdotal reports from police and first responders, and unsheltered homeless people themselves. 

Skagit County to our south has NO low-barrier homeless shelter - none. Bellingham Lighthouse Mission (LMM)provides the sole full-time low-barrier shelter for all of Whatcom and Skagit counties; and the Mission apparently solicits “guests” from out-of-state (see below). These facts counter Bridget Reeves’ (LMM Assoc. Director) claim during the LMM May 26 Neighborhood Meeting, “People will move for a house or an apartment, but they won’t move for a shelter bed.”

Consider also Snohomish County (which includes Everett) has a total population 3.5 times larger than Whatcom County. Snohomish fairly manages its homeless population with one full-time low-barrier shelter of 250 – 300 service capacity. The Lighthouse Mission rebuild proposes 500+ service capacity – this is twice the homeless shelter capacity for Whatcom, whose population is a quarter that of Snohomish. Also, the Snohomish County low barrier shelter is located in Everett near I-5 and away from the city center. Why are Lighthouse Mission and COB proposing an oversized low barrier homeless shelter in a mixed residential central city neighborhood?

Base Camp - Lighthouse Mission’s Low-Barrier Homeless Shelter

Base Camp is the low-barrier/200+ capacity homeless shelter on Cornwall Ave./Flora St. run by Lighthouse Mission Ministries. Prior to the COVID pandemic, their homeless shelter was the Drop-In Center at 910 W. Holly.  LMM plans to double Base Camp’s capacity and include it in the rebuilt facility on W. Holly.

A neighbor and I recently called LMM to inquire about their services. Polite residents confirmed that the low-barrier Base Camp serves anyone from anywhere as space allows, and “guests” arrive from as far away as Georgia. They also reported 20 – 40 men and “about that many” women/children in residential programs on W. Holly, and 150 – 300 “guests” served daily at Base Camp on Cornwall Ave. 

Whether the unsheltered homeless originate from near or far, whether or not they join Mission restorative programs, whether they spend nights in Base Camp or on our city streets, Base Camp offers them three meals a day, showers, laundry, internet, and indoor daytime socializing. Many shelter clients elect to spend their days and nights between meals out on the streets, parks, and greenways of Bellingham’s core business and residential neighborhoods. Assaults and property crimes substantially increase in adjacent neighborhoods wherever the low-barrier shelter is located; these criminal activities will likely increase proportionately to the Mission’s planned expansion.

Funding Lighthouse Mission Ministries

Funding for Lighthouse Mission Ministries was also misrepresented at the May 26 public meeting. Hans Erchinger-Davis, LMM Director, assured everyone that LMM is “purely” privately funded and accepts no government funds. Fact is, Lighthouse Mission Ministries pays no property taxes on its multiple city properties. Bellingham tax payers provide LMM all soft and hard infrastructure services, including police/fire/social/public health/COB administrative and municipal services, and public works for streets/lights/sewer and storm water. The several hundred high-needs LMM clients from near and far require an inordinately high amount of our public services. 

Turning the screw on Bellingham citizens at the 5/26 meeting, Tara Sundin (COB Planning & Community Development) informed us that COB is “a partner with the Lighthouse Mission,” having provided them property and funding to establish Base Camp. For their proposed expansion on W. Holly, COB plans to provide LMM substantial hard infrastructure upgrades usually paid by developers. 

COB’s partnership with Lighthouse Mission for their planned expansion and redevelopment begs the question of who is advocating for the public health and safety of Bellingham’s core neighborhoods? Ultimately, for the well-being of all Bellingham? And who is assuring cost-effective use of our citizen paid taxes for the greatest good of Bellingham residents? In fact, Bellingham citizens are subsidizing Lighthouse Mission Ministries with our tax revenues and with our neighborhoods’ health and safety.

Low Barrier Homeless Shelter Should Be Located Outside City Core

It now behooves Bellingham residents and businesses - especially those in core Bellingham neighborhoods as City Center, Old Town, Lettered Streets, Columbia, Cornwall, and York - to be informed about the proposed LMM Redevelopment Plan and demand that COB decide this project based on public health and safety of our citizens. Also, any redevelopment of Lighthouse Mission Ministries should be sized to serve Whatcom County needs and guided by ending, not growing, our unhoused population.

LMM plans to submit their development permit application to COB within the next couple weeks, likely mid-October. The public hearing and COB decision about the permit will likely occur in mid to late December – perhaps during the holiday season which usually assures low public participation (coincidental or planned?). 

Written public comment can be submitted now and at any time in the permitting process; direct your comments to COB Planning, your ward council member, and Mayor Fleetwood. Then watch for the coming notifications of the LMM permit application submission and public hearing.  Now and during the coming weeks is the time to express concern for the health and safety of our core city neighborhoods and ultimately all Bellingham: ask that COB not allow  Base Camp to be oversized and returned to W. Holly or any core city location.

All Bellingham neighborhoods will be negatively impacted if our city core is sacrificed to a large low-barrier homeless shelter in Old Town. Bellingham citizens must act now – NO LOW-BARRIER HOMELESS SHELTER IN THE CITY CORE - or forever hold your peace in an increasingly dangerous and declining city.

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Additional Information:

You can view the video of the May 26 “Neighborhood Meeting” that didn’t invite the neighborhood here:

Lighthouse Mission Redevelopment - Neighborhood Meeting Recording.

This link is for the DropBox registration/sign-in page that provides the first hour of the project presentation. To view the full 2 hours Q&A and confirm my earlier credits, download the video option on the DropBox page. 

“Neighborhood Meeting” attendees seemed mostly from outside Lettered Streets Neighborhood, and less than half the dozen or so public speakers were from Lettered Streets. The purported Lettered Streets Neighborhood Association did not inform their own neighborhood about the meeting. Bellingham needs a Department of Neighborhoods to provide citizens a representative voice in City Hall about neighborhood developments (see “Who’s Running Your Neighborhood Association? And Why Care?”).

About Karen Steen

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jan 11, 2020

A native of New Orleans, Karen has now lived most of her life in the PNW. She worked for 30+ years as a RN/FNP, mostly in community and public health [...]

Abe Jacobson

Oct 06, 2021

 A lot of good (and disturbing) information here.

But please take another look at the caption under the photograph:

“Homeless Man- Almost Indistinguishable From Trash”

I’m sure the author did not mean it, but English is tricky, and one simple reading of that caption is that the homeless person is trash.

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Satpal Sidhu

Oct 06, 2021

Good points rasied. I am bit baffled by the caption “importing problems”. This does, however, underscore that this is not a single jurisdiction issues, but  a national issue, requiring national level reponse / solutions. Just isolating it to be Bellingham problem is also not true. This is Whatcom County issue or Washington State issue for resouces and solutions.  Something which took half a century to precipitate upon us, becasue of our economic and social policies (national level and state level), it will take some time to implement the solutions, that is only if we collectivey want to solve this or just show empathy and sympathy from time to time. There is no magic bullet to solve homelessness and mental health services  in a year or two.  Even if we have all the money in the world to throw at these problems, it will take more than a decade or two.

 

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Karen Steen

Oct 06, 2021

Abe,

Thank you for your reply and suggestion to clarify the foto caption. I agree the caption was regrettably ambiguous: it was intended to distinquish, not equate the sleeping bag from the surrounding trash and demonstate the tragedy to unsheltered homeless people and our community of the homelessness epidemic.

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Karen Steen

Oct 06, 2021

Satpal,

Thank you for your reply. Perhaps “inheriting problems” would be the better reference for  Bellingham having become a destination for unhoused people from distant jurisdictions and states. This inmigration is a complex phenomenon to describe succinctly.

Certainly, the homeless problem here is county wide. But, Bellingham’s city center hosts the only full-time shelter and nearly all related social services for Whatcom County. If we continue with 20th century responses to 21st century homelessness, as is the proposed Base Camp expansion in Bellingham’s core, we will recreate 20th century inner city tragedies in Bellingham’s core neighborhoods - crime, blight, loss of businesses, and socioeconomically segregated neighborhoods that disadvantage the poor in every measure of public health from basic safety to education.

The guiding purpose of my article is to provide basic information needed to reframe solutions and not sacrifice Bellingham’s core neighborhoods. Scores of businesses have left Bellingham’s downtown in recent years owing to the public health and safety problems there. This scorge is now establishing itself in core neighborhoods, and the lower income neighborhoods are disproportinately affected.

If Bellingham/Whatcom County continue to implement 20th century measures that sacrifice city centers to failed homelessness and related services - as are Base Camp and the Drop-in Center before it - Bellingham will cease to be a liveable city, from the inside out and in less than the “decade or two” you suggest we allow.

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NWCitizen

Oct 06, 2021

For clarification, the photo caption mentioned by Abe Jacobson was not created or placed there by the author of the article.  The caption has been removed.

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Thomas R. Scott

Oct 07, 2021

Has the Mission been asked if they confirm that they have been advertising their services as far away as San Diego (as the article anecdotally noted)?

If they have or are doing so, that seems quite problematic on a number of levels.

 1 - This would seem to gin up the local “demand” which otherwise would not exist at the resulting level.

 . . a - The increased demand would then reduce per capita available services for local homeless aggravating their personal situations (less food, less housing, less other resources for them).

 . . b - Especially for homeless women and children, one of their greatest personal threats are homeless men (obviously not all but a fraction).  That is why so many shelters exclude men (to improve security for women and children).  Successfully advertising to increase numbers, increases security threats.

 . . c - Should not San Diego (and their equivalent of the Mission) work to support their own causes and results of homelessness rather than be assisted to shoulder it off on another city?

 2 - Advertising is normally reserved for when an organization has excess resources.  Conversely, it can be used to create demand and “grow the organization” by growing demand.

 . . a - No non-profit should be in the business of growing demand.

 . . b - No government should support growing the need/demand for any non-profits.

 . . c - If the situation of homelessness is a “problem to solve”, increasing/growing the “problem” through advertising is patently counterproductive for all concerned (except maybe for the livelihood of executive staff, also for paid consultants to the City and/or the non-profit).

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Karen Steen

Oct 07, 2021

Thank you, Thomas, for detailing the unfortunate consequences to our city and county of a low barrier homeless shelter that solicits, and/or accepts without qualification, unhoused people from distant jurisdictions.

When drafting my article, I briefly considered contacting Lighthouse Mission administration to confirm the report of them advertising on public busses in California; but I had good cause to expect they would not be forthcoming about this. I had attended the 3-hour May 26 “Neighborhood Meeting” (that didn’t invite Lettered Streets neighborhood - video linked above), and I viewed the entire recorded meeting another three times to confirm my understanding of claims made by Lighthouse Mission and COB. Clearly, many of the Mission’s public claims misrepresented or omitted facts.

In short, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the anecdotal report about Lighthouse Mission advertising on a California bus; and I have every reason to doubt the accuracy of information provided by Lighthouse Mission administration.

I am confident of the accuracy of information provided by Mission resident staff cited in paragraph 6 of my article: that “guests” enroute here from as distant as Georgia and Texas are welcomed by Lighthouse Mission. This statement is consistent with the Whatcom County annual homelessness report, anecdotal reports by first responders, and the homeless themselves.

Consider also that Lighthouse Mission Ministries is a member of Citygate Network based in Colorado Springs, CO, “comprised of approximately 300 missions and kindred ministries located throughout North America” that help “you…to find missions or ministries that offer specific services”. The Citygate Network members roster and search engines where Lighthouse Mission Ministries is listed are here: https://www.citygatenetwork.org/agrm/Locate_a_Mission.asp.

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Liz Marshall

Oct 07, 2021

Thank you, Karen, for your focused article and your October 6 & 7 comments. In May I watched that Lighthouse Mission meeting. I too thought the several citizens were very polite in their comments. I have also watched meetings where counts of people arriving from out of town are discussed. I have also met people on my walks who have taken the bus to get here. Taxi cabs even drop them on Glass Beach to sleep. I agree with Thomas R. Scott’s comment. 

I have advocated fairly fruitlessly since at least 2017 for appropriate oversight and conservation of the natural area near Wharf Street. Attention from responsible parties does not readily materialize. Most of my inquiries, if replied to at all, are met with “homelessness is a national issue” or other off-point truisms. For another example, there is a repeatedly employed response that several other sites take priority, including Whatcom Creek and Cornwall Avenue. It can be assumed the various staffers don’t keep a tally of or care how many times an excuse has been used for the same request. Moreover there is a lack of adequate care given to both those vicinities so it is ironic that they use such excuses. The last time I walked around this Whatcom Creek segment (9/29), there were still occupants and trash along the riparian corridor from behind City Hall to near the Senior Center towards Cornwall Avenue. So I guess the length of time this salmon stream has been so egregiously impacted has been 10 months or more? As for Cornwall Avenue, there is a complaint just posted today (by someone other than me) at SeeClickFix exemplifying the continued problem. An employee at the factory there told me in June that complaints by the company go unheeded. 

There are road and driver problems nationwide that perhaps developed over years and need to be resolved one at a time in order of priority, but responsible jurisdictions don’t typically tell their bosses or their communities such context means they can’t repair broken traffic lights, write tickets for speeding, ensure adherence to stormwater and garbage regulations, suspend licenses and so forth. 

I wrote City Hall August 3rd this year about the portion of Whatcom Creek between City Hall and Cornwall Ave and when there was no response wrote County Executive Satpal Sidhu August 19th. Sadly I did not receive a reply to that email either.  https://tinyurl.com/August-emails

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Karen Steen

Oct 07, 2021

Thank you, Liz, for your observations about the 5/26 meeting and chronic lack of responsiveness to pressing citizen concerns by City Hall.

Indeed, the 5/26 “Neighborhood Meeting” was “polite”; Lettered Streets neighborhood was neither invited nor present. Only Lettered Streets property owners within 500 feet of the Mission were informed about that meeting. Responsibility for that gross neglect falls to the ostensible Lettered Streets Neighborhood Association and COB.

I feel your pain about the tragic destruction by homeless encampments along our creek beds, shorelines, and greenways. Tefloned characterizes the responses to this ongoing destruction by COB and Bellingham residents not directly impacted by it. They are all whistling past the graveyard, telling themselves a monsterous new Lighthouse Mission will solve Bellingham’s homeless problem. They couldn’t be more wrong.

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 09, 2021

Satpal,

I am in agreement with your comment about national level response and in disagreement with with Liz about “off-point truisms”.   Although we must not neglect the homeless locally and do what we can in that regard, the recognition that this intractable, nationwide crisis must be met with a national level response akin to a wartime response is absolutely correct.  If we are not seeking that level of response, then we are fooling ourselves and those who most need assistance, the homeless. 

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Liz Marshall

Oct 09, 2021

I agree with Satpal and Dick that it is true that the ongoing national crisis requires national action which is why I referred to this as a truism. Federal actions are taking place. Homelessness is all citizens’ problem. I do not hold that nationwide nonprofits, government agencies and citizen activists are lax or absent from addressing it. The three-day 37th annual Conference on Ending Homelessness (in Washington state—-more info here) just wrapped up. I believe it is in its 37th year; this reflects significant motivation in lots of people’s minds and hearts for a very long time. There is implementation of many huge financial investments across the USA on the part of private investors, nonprofits, Washington state, and the US government. (BTW there was a national conference on ending homeless held in September.) There are strong efforts locally and across the nation to protect air, land and water too. That has been my point. There are many local, state and federal health and ecological regulations to uphold simultaneously such as those pertaining to salmon recovery, litter, clean water, and sanitation to name a few. 

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Karen Steen

Oct 09, 2021

I agree with Liz and Dick!  The national crisis of homelessness is a truism that begs for national level solutions. Also true is that liberal coastal cities are inordinately impacted by the numbers of displaced unhoused people nationwide. Add this wake-up call: we can’t locally build our way out of the homeless crisis within liberal coastal cities.

From a lifelong homeless advocate, Pastor Andy Bales, Director of Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row, LA for 20+ years, here is the single most informative interview I’ve found about the fundamental failure of America’s response to now epidemic homelessness:

“Why Housing the Homeless is Failing in California” - Andy Bales, July 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-pYilk8GgE&t=28s

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Base Camp: Sheltering Our Homeless or Importing Problems?

By Karen SteenOn Oct 06, 2021

Is our homeless population local or from out-of-town, and at what cost to Bellingham?

12 comments, most recent 1 week ago

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A tour d’horizon of the state of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission.

19 comments, most recent 1 year ago