Temporary Shelter Regulations

The City of Bellingham recently adopted new regulations that set the zoning, health and safety standards for temporary shelters (temporary building encampments, temporary safe parking areas, temporary tent encampments, and temporary tiny house encampments). Temporary shelters provide temporary housing accommodations for people experiencing homelessness. These shelters are the same as temporary encampments as defined in RCW 35.21.915.

Key regulations include:

  • Temporary shelters are allowed in any zoning district, except for temporary building encampments, which are allowed in limited areas.
  • Sponsors and managing agencies are limited to religious organizations, non-profit agencies, or government entities.
  • Occupancy limits apply.
  • Tiny house encampments are required to have additional safety measures.
  • A code of conduct is required. At a minimum, the code is required to include a prohibition on the on-site use or sale of alcohol and illegal drugs and threatening or unsafe behavior.
  • An operations plan that addresses site management, site maintenance, and provision of human and social services is required.
  • On-site supervision is required.
  • No children under the age of 18 are allowed to stay overnight, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, or unless the shelter is licensed to provide services to this population.
  • For health and safety reasons, the sponsor and/or managing agency is required to take all reasonable and legal steps to obtain verifiable identification information, including full name and date of birth, from current and prospective shelter guests and keep a log of this information.
  • People who are required to register as a sex offender are prohibited from the shelter.
  • Should the sponsor and/or managing agency become aware of a current or prospective guest who has an active felony warrant, it is required to follow set protocol (as approved by the Bellingham Police Department) for contacting the BPD and addressing these warrants.
  • The sponsor or managing agency is required to coordinate with the Homeless Service Center for referrals to their program and with other providers of shelters and services for people experiencing homelessness to encourage access to all appropriate services for their guests.
  • Exceptions apply. For instance, confidential shelters are exempt from compliance with the regulations.
  • The Planning Director may require additional health and safety measures and/or grant waivers from certain requirements as part of the permitting process. Waivers must be requested by the applicant.

Please refer to Bellingham Municipal Code Chapter 20.15 for the complete set of requirements for temporary shelters.


All temporary shelter permit applications will be reviewed under a Type II process; however, the following timelines override those found in BMC 21.10.110:

  • Within seven calendar days of receiving a complete application, the director shall publish a notice of application for a temporary shelter permit.
  • After conclusion of a 14-calendar day notice/comment period, the director shall decide whether to grant, grant with conditions or deny a temporary shelter permit.
  • Final action will be rendered within 30 days of submittal, unless extended by mutual agreement between the City and applicant.
  • A notice of such decision stating whether the permit is granted or denied, along with information regarding the procedure for appeal of the decision, will be mailed as required for the notice of application/hearing within three business days after the date of the decision.

Prior to submitting an application, please complete these pre-application steps:

  • Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss the temporary shelter permit process and criteria with planning staff early in the project planning process.
  • Written notice and an opportunity for comment must be provided to any licensed child care facility and the administration of any public or private elementary, middle, junior high or high school within 600 feet of the boundaries of the proposed site. This noticing requirement and any modification of the proposal in response to comments should occur prior to submittal of the application. This noticing requirement is separate from the standard noticing process.

The temporary shelter permit application is available here or on the City’s Land Use Application webpage. After meeting with City staff on your proposal, please fill out the application and submit it to staff in the Permit Center (City Hall – 210 Lottie St., 360-778-8300). Temporary shelter permit applications do not include a processing fee. Planning staff will assist applicants in determining if additional permits may be required.



​Permit Center  360-778-8300