Unauthorized Encampments

The City of Bellingham follows an established process for accepting reports, monitoring, and cleaning up unauthorized homeless encampments on public and private property. This work is coordinated by the Bellingham Public Works Department, in collaboration with other City departments and homeless service providers.

Cleanup efforts are intended to help maintain public health and safety for all, including those living unsheltered. The City offers a number of direct services for people experiencing homelessness, including free vouchers for wastewater dumps for people living in recreational vehicles, garbage dumpsters, porta-potties, and access to water and showers.

Report an unauthorized camp

Please report an active or abandoned encampment using the link below.

Summary

  • Most camp cleanup actions are complaint driven.
  • Cleaning up City parks and rights of way take priority for City action.
  • Property owners are responsible for cleaning up camps on private property.
  • Identified City staff review the overall impact of reported camps. For camps on City property, cleanup decisions are made based on criteria such as location, potential public health, environmental, and safety hazards, and availability of shelter.
  • Camp occupants are offered shelter and other services and notified in advance of cleanup actions.
  • All camp cleanups are evaluated, prioritized, noticed, and scheduled. Indiscriminate “sweeps” of camps without notice are not conducted.
  • COVID-19 and the availability of shelter may affect City camp cleanups.

After a camp is reported

  1. The report is entered into a database shared by several City departments.
  2. A site visit is made for staff to evaluate the camp and determine next steps, based on established procedures.
  3. The camp is scheduled for outreach by the Homeless Outreach Team, which assists unsheltered people by notifying them of available resources and, if they wish, helping them access those resources.
  4. The camp is “tagged” for cleanup, which is formal notice to vacate and remove personal property within a specific amount of time, typically at least 24 hours for City Parks and usually 5-7 days for other City property or rights of way.
  5. The camp is scheduled for cleanup to remove any property or debris left behind.
  6. The camp is cleaned.

Frequently Asked Questions

During times of limited or no shelter availability, the City follows established procedures for reporting and monitoring camps, continues cleanup of abandoned camps, and continues limited camp removal only in certain circumstances, including: serious public health and safety concerns, locations where public construction projects are underway and need to move forward, and/or where damage is being done to environmentally sensitive areas. Decisions to move forward with cleanups during times of limited shelter availability are made by the City on a case-by-case basis. Normal camp cleanup operations resume when shelter becomes available.

Property that is not valuable or attributed to a specific person is considered abandoned by the former occupants and will be discarded.

There are typically at least 200 reports of active and abandoned homeless camps in the online reporting queue at any one time. Complaints are prioritized based on their location, public health and safety hazards, and other factors. Then resources are coordinated for outreach, notification and cleanup of those camps scheduled for action.

Property owners are responsible for cleanup of camps on private property and sometimes owners are unable to schedule clean-up immediately.

Two police officers respond with the cleanup crew to help protect the safety of all involved, to ensure that any occupants of the encampment have vacated, and to issue trespass warnings if they do not leave.

Police respond to more than 70,000 calls for service via 911 each year. Our 911 and patrol officer resources are better focused on emergencies. Homeless camps are not considered emergencies unless crimes or public safety incidents are occurring. If you see a crime or public safety incident, please call 911.

More information

Public Works Department Contacts