Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville issued the following statement today regarding the homeless camp at City Hall:
To the Bellingham community,
For the past two weeks, we have had campers at City Hall who are asking for a place for homeless to camp in Bellingham. They have been issued a permit to stay until Monday Dec. 18 at noon, and today we had a meeting with the organizers of the camp to discuss next steps.
This is an issue I feel passionately about. Our City spends $4.9 million every year to support housing and homelessness issues in our community, but it is not enough. Today I reiterated that we are listening to concerns and are willing to work to find solutions.
There are currently beds available at the local emergency winter shelters, so there are places for people to go. Even for those who have been previously barred from services, the Lighthouse Mission Ministries has committed to working with anyone to find a path for them to find shelter.
We are also seeking partners to create an emergency tent camping area this winter. The state authorizes religious organizations to host temporary encampments and limits a local government's ability to regulate these encampments. This legislation also grants broad authority to provide shelter or housing to homeless persons on property that these organizations own or control. I have reached out to our community's religious organizations to see if we can find a partner to host a temporary emergency encampment.
I believe there is a need to address some misinformation about what the City of Bellingham is doing with camp cleanups, however. I want to make it clear that the City does not do “sweeps,” where the police kick campers out without notice. We perform camp clean ups that are complaint driven and with notice, and we prioritize those that pose a risk to public health or the environment. I have asked staff to review our procedures. We work closely with our social service providers, such as the Homeless Outreach Team, to make sure anyone who is in a camp has access to services. We have scheduled a few camp cleanups that are priorities through this Wednesday, but I have asked staff that we halt additional clean ups for the next few weeks while we explore emergency camping options.
We have heard a lot from the community about the current camp at City Hall, both in support and against. The City works on these issues every day, and I am committed to continuing this dialog and to be transparent in this process. We have met with Whatcom County to address these issues as a partner, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of our community partners to find solutions and to make sure that everyone in our community has the opportunity for shelter.
Mayor Kelli Linville