Unauthorized Encampments

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

Cleanup efforts are intended to help maintain public health and safety for all, including those living unsheltered.

Cleanups of unauthorized encampments are driven by community complaints. The City prioritizes cleaning up parks and rights of way. Property owners are responsible for cleaning up camps on private property. All camps are evaluated, prioritized, noticed and scheduled. Indiscriminate “sweeps” of camps without notice are not conducted.

Report an unauthorized camp

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

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. 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.
  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. If the camp has been determined to be a risk to public health and safety, occupants are given a notice to vacate by a specific date and time when the camp will be cleaned up. This notice to vacate also includes a list of resources in the city and county to assist people experiencing homelessness. 
  5. The camp is scheduled for cleanup to remove any waste 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