Temporary Warming Site at Depot Market Square (now closed)

The City hosted a temporary emergency warming site at Depot Market Square for seven nights, February 9-16, 2021, providing emergency shelter for many people during the bitter cold and snow during that week. An overview of the operation of the warming site was provided to the Bellingham City Council during the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on February 22, 2021 (beginning at approximately 12 minutes into the meeting video).

The warming site was set up and managed by Parks and Recreation staff, many of whom spent several days/nights at the site. During the City Council presentation, Parks Director Nicole Oliver said that, while it was hoped the warming site could be entirely run by volunteers, the reality was it could not. It required 24-hour support and troubleshooting by Parks staff with law enforcement on standby. Thank you to our Parks and Recreation team for making it happen. It also was supported by the Mayor’s Office, Public Works, Police, Fire/EMS, staff from other City departments (some of whom volunteered their time), and with the assistance of representatives from the Opportunity Council, the HOT team, Francis Place, LMM Base Camp, Whatcom County Search and Rescue, and other organizations.

An estimated 175 guests (some who were repeat guests) were assisted by four full-time staff and 88 volunteers who worked 460 total hours while the site was open. At the closing of the site, staff worked one-on-one with many of the guests to connect them with community agencies and resources. Service providers checked in regularly while the site was open and were at the site to assist people when it closed.

Thank you to all who helped by volunteering time and donating supplies. We are grateful for the outpouring of community support for this emergency effort and could not have hosted this emergency warming site without the commitment of volunteers and community donations including blankets, food, socks, gloves and other items. Leftover donated items were given to Base Camp.

Overnight guests*

Tuesday Feb. 9: 4 overnight guests
Wednesday Feb. 10: 16 overnight guests
Thursday, Feb. 11: 27 overnight guests
Friday, Feb. 12: 35-41 overnight guests
Saturday, Feb. 13: 28-32 overnight guests
Sunday, Feb. 14: 32-38 overnight guests
Monday, Feb. 15: 28-32 overnight guests

*2/17/21 update

Law enforcement and emergency medical responses

Twenty three calls to 911 for assistance were made during the seven days the warming site was open, 7 resulting in emergency medical responses and 16 resulting in law enforcement responses. Nine people were trespassed from the site.

Why did the City close the warming site as scheduled?

  • The City is under contractual obligation to allow the Depot Market Square facility to be used by the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturday, February 20. City staff are scheduled to conduct a deep cleaning to make the facility ready for the Saturday market, anticipated to take 2-3 days.
  • The warming site was quickly established as an emergency temporary cold weather warming site. The City is not staffed or equipped to maintain a longer-term warming site, even with significant volunteer support and donations.

What is the City doing to address homelessness?

We are doing more than ever. The City spends approximately $5 million per year on contracts with partners who provide services to help either prevent or respond to homelessness. The Whatcom County Health Department contributes an equivalent amount each year, for a total of about $10 million per year county-wide.

The City and County are working simultaneously to provide permanent housing solutions, respond to the need for emergency shelter, and address the root causes of homelessness. For more information about the City’s efforts to address and prevent homelessness, please see our Homelessness FAQs for Winter 2021, our State of Housing and Homelessness and our Addressing Homelessness pages. 

Temporary Warming Site at Depot Market Square (Feb. 9-16, 2021)

The City established a temporary warming site at Depot Market Square, located in the 1100 block of Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham.

Depot Market Square was available as a warming site from 5 p.m. Tuesday, February 9 until Noon Tuesday, February 16. It was open 24-hours per day. People experiencing homelessness used this location to stay warm. The warming site was staffed by volunteers and City staff, with COVID-19 requirements and procedures in place.

With frigid weather followed by snow in the forecast, standing up this site was the right thing to do to provide an additional place for people living unsheltered to stay warm.