Addressing tent encampments and emergency winter shelter needs

A tent encampment began on the lawn in front of City Hall in mid-November, 2020, later expanding to the Central Library lawn. On January 28, 2021, action was taken to end the City Hall encampment. When the City Hall encampment was ended, some people moved to the Geri Field lower parking lot at the Civic Athletic Complex, where they continued to be aided by community volunteers. When the Geri Field encampment was ended, some people moved to Laurel Park.

The situation is complex, challenging and dynamic. Safety for all – people living unsheltered, volunteers, City employees, and members of the public – remains our primary concern. We remain actively engaged in efforts to create additional shelter options and connect people with services, in collaboration with multiple partners and advocates for those living unsheltered.

The City and Whatcom County collaborate to provide permanent housing solutions, respond to the need for emergency shelter, and address the root causes of homelessness, together investing approximately $10 million per year in projects, partnerships and services. See our Homelessness FAQ for Winter 2021 page for more information.

Photo above: Unauthorized encampment in the lower parking lot at Geri Field in the Civic Athletic Complex, February 2021.

Key Communications

Homelessness FAQs

What is the City doing to address homelessness? How can you help? These and other questions answered on the Winter 2021 Homelessness FAQ page.

Laurel Park and Geri Field

An encampment at Laurel Park was ended on Thursday, March 25. Staff report on City steps pending.

During the March 22, Committee of the Whole, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and other City leaders provided an update about efforts to end the encampment at Laurel Park, and a summary of the operation to end the encampment at Geri Field.

This update, and follow up questions and remarks by Council members, provides a comprehensive and candid overview of the City’s efforts to encourage campers to take advantage of existing services and resources, remove and prevent encampments at City parks, and protect public health and safety for campers, City staff, and members of the public.

During this discussion, Mayor Fleetwood reiterated his commitment to ending the Laurel Park encampment.

Agendas and videos of Bellingham City Council meetings available at meetings.cob.org

The discussion occurred during Old/New business on the Committee of the Whole agenda.

During the March 22, Committee of the Whole, City staff and representatives from partner agencies including Opportunity Council, Bellingham Housing Authority and Lydia Place provided an overview of housing services programs, focusing especially on those that address the needs of families with children experiencing homelessness.

Agendas and videos of Bellingham City Council meetings available at meetings.cob.org

Direct links for this item:

Many people who were camping at Geri Field moved, with the assistance of volunteers, to Laurel Park. Signs were posted on Tuesday afternoon, March 16, giving legal notice that overnight camping in City parks is not allowed and people staying at Laurel Park must leave by 8 a.m. Friday, March 19.

We encourage caring members of the public to donate to established homeless services agencies and avoid donating to unauthorized encampments, which only enables people to stay at unauthorized locations. Further, as noted in the staff report below, many of the donations go unused. More information about how community members can help available on our Homelessness FAQs page.

Overview of clean-up activities

  • Work started at 7:45 a.m. on March 16 and was completed by 3:00 p.m. 
  • The clean up came at a combined Parks and Public Work cost of $27,018.60 (excluding costs for SSC disposal and Bellingham Police) for labor, equipment and materials.
  • Personal belongings meeting guidelines were secured and provided to Bellingham Police for storage and retrieval.
  • Parks and Public Works staff worked exceptionally well as a team. Those present conducted themselves with professionalism and dignity and engaged with campers in helpful, compassionate ways. 
  • Approximately 240 cubic yards of garbage were removed. A typical single-family residence in Bellingham has a 90-gallon can picked up weekly and produces roughly 1.5 cubic yards of solid waste per month. 
  • There was no recycling of any kind. 
  • Many camp/tent sites had been vacated or abandoned prior to City crews arriving. 
  • Several campers were assisted in removing themselves and belongings by a number of community members. Once the campers and community members were done packing, City crews dismantled and removed the remaining debris. Few personal belongings were recovered from sites that had been cleaned by campers and/or community members.
  • Some community members used verbal attacks, obscene gestures and threating comments towards City staff throughout the day but there were no assaults, no arrests and no need for police intervention. 
  • Several of the community members present were clearly equipped and ready for protest or conflict.  Several had premade signs, some wore ski googles, hand-held megaphones, etc. Nearly all were dressed in black from head to toe similar to the attire worn by protestors we have seen in recent weeks.
  • The Bellingham Herald and three television stations were on site, and KGMI and one other television station asked for information after the clean up concluded.

Additional observations:

  • A small plywood and tarp shelter near where a fire occurred last week was one of the first structures to be removed. After confirming there were no people or salvageable personal property in the shelter, a small excavator was used to remove the structure. When the excavator pulled the structure away approximately two dozen rats scurried out.
  • One camper, after being contacted by City staff, announced he was leaving and told the crew to clean up and throw away all the things he was leaving. He then left. City crews, acting on the camper’s statements, started to dismantle the site. Community members immediately descended on the site and started collecting and removing the tent and materials. The person who had been living in that tent was no longer on site. The community members loaded the material in a vehicle and drove it away.
  • There were two men who were present on the site until nearly 2:00 p.m. Both were agitated and appeared in need of medical assistance. We left them alone until late in the day. Bellingham Police staff were making plans for the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team from Compass Health and community paramedics to be on site. Before those service providers arrived, one of the community members put both individuals into her vehicle and drove them away. Bellingham Police called off both service providers. It is unknown where these individuals went. 
  • The central area where the food tent had been located was cleaned up after the campers removed themselves and belongs. One official who was on site during the clean-up noted that, after 20 years of being around wastewater treatment plants, solid waste transfer facilities, sewage spills, wastewater lift stations, illegal dump sites and other similar environments, he has never smelled anything as foul or seen as unsanitary conditions as he observed in the lower Geri Field parking lot on March 16. He said there were large bags of dog food rotting, unopened cans of food, packages of new and unused clothing left to be disposed of. He observed that the amount of material amassed in the few weeks between the start of the Geri encampment and the clean-up required exceeded the amount of material that was removed from City Hall. With seemingly fewer campers and a shorter duration it was surprising to have so much debris to remove and an unfortunately large quantity of donated items wasted. Those donations would have been put to much better use if they had been donated to the existing service provider network, food banks, thrift stores or charity outlets, organizations that are equipped and capable of accepting and suitably storing donations of food, clothing and materials that were wasted at Geri Field. 

During the City Council special meeting on March 15, Mayor Seth Fleetwood updated City Council and the community about plans for the Geri Field clean up and offered the following additional remarks:

  • We are aware that some campers leaving Geri Field are setting up on other public properties, such as on Port of Bellingham property. They are not authorized by the Port to camp on this property and we are working with Port officials to address it.
  • Others are setting up on City park properties. We have asked them to leave as overnight camping is not allowed at City parks. We will follow our usual process for further cleanups.
  • We encourage caring members of the public to donate to established homeless services agencies and avoid donating to these unauthorized encampments, which only enables people to stay at unauthorized locations.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic, these high-profile encampments, and our community’s care for the well-being of all our neighbors have heightened awareness of housing issues.
  • Affordable housing and homelessness are top concerns in our community and safe, stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives.
  • These topics are complex and dynamic, and Bellingham is not alone in experiencing these challenges or in our efforts to address them.
  • The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and many partners work together to provide permanent housing solutions, respond to the need for emergency shelter, and address the root causes of homelessness, together investing approximately $10 million per year in projects and services.
  • We know community members are eager to learn more. I encourage people to look beyond the rhetoric and social media commentary if they wish to truly understand these issues and join the conversations and decision-making about them.
  • Information and links to partners agencies, along with a record of action in recent months, are posted on the City website www.cob.org

We now turn our attention to urging any remaining camp residents to leave and beginning site clean-up and repairs. Our plans focus on keeping people who are camping, City staff and members of the public safe at all times.

On Monday, March 15, a dumpster will be provided in the parking lot and it will be replaced as needed.

On Tuesday morning, March 16, City Public Works and Parks crews and equipment will arrive to store belongings, clear debris and begin site repairs. Equipment will include trucks and loaders to transport items for storage and for waste disposal. Additional staff will be on hand to remind residents the encampment is ending, share information about other shelter options, accept belongings for proper storage, help access transportation, and otherwise assist campers as they leave.

Our Parks and Public Works teams are well trained and equipped for this work and are proud and eager to help campers move to safe shelter and help provide safe access for everyone to area roads, sidewalks, parks and trails.

If these efforts are not successful, or if crews are confronted with any form of violence, additional law enforcement assistance will be requested as a last resort.

There have been a number of questions about the three days of outreach hosted at Civic Stadium last week. An estimated 12* people met with service providers at Civic Stadium and others came by for coffee and informal conversations. (*Preliminary count, to be confirmed by service providers during business hours.) Prior to these events, flyers were distributed to camp residents and camp volunteers were informed of the services being made available. An outreach team also entered the camp on Thursday, March 11, and made contact with many of the camp residents.

Affordable housing and homelessness are top concerns in our community and safe, stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic, high profile encampments, and our community’s care for the well-being of all our neighbors have heightened awareness of housing issues. These topics are complex and dynamic, and Bellingham is not alone in experiencing these challenges or in our efforts to address them.

The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and many partners work together to provide permanent housing solutions, respond to the need for emergency shelter, and address the root causes of homelessness, together investing approximately $10 million per year in projects and services.

Community members are eager to learn more. Here are a few ways to get started:

These are just a few ways to find timely, accurate information about these important community issues.

Homeless service providers offered services three mornings this week to those sheltering at Geri Field the City prepares to disband the encampment next week. These outreach events, hosted near the encampment by the City, offered connections to housing and shelter options and information about substance use, mental health and other health care services.

Thank you to Unity Care Northwest, Cascade Medical Advance, Compass Health, Opportunity Council Homeless Outreach Team, Lighthouse Mission Ministries and SeaMar/GRACE for joining this effort, offered for three consecutive days this week: 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday March 10, Thursday March 11, and Friday March 12 at the front entrance to Civic Stadium. Flyers about the outreach events were distributed to people staying at Geri Field and to camp volunteers, and some outreach workers visited the camp, to encourage residents to attend and access services and alternative shelter.

Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood provided an update during the March 8, 2021, City Council Committee of the Whole that included the following information:

  • The unauthorized encampment at Geri Field was not approved by the City and will not continue. Steps to end this camp are underway.
  • Reasonable alternatives for shelter for most people staying at Geri are immediately available.
  • Many staying at Geri Field are the part of the most difficult-to-serve, chronic homeless population, requiring special care for their complex and significant challenges such as addiction, aggression, and mental health issues.
  • The camp environment, with few rules or boundaries, presents serious public health and safety hazards. There have been several high-profile incidents, increased 911 calls and reports of violence, drug use and other illegal activities in the area, and lack of COVID-19 precautions.
  • The site has been damaged and has a great deal of refuse, including feces and needles, requiring clean-up and repairs before it will be ready for public use and scheduled spring recreation activities.
  • The City has explored many avenues in recent months for increasing sheltering capacity and for connecting camp residents to our community’s many programs and facilities.
  • Steps to end the camp will begin tomorrow (March 9), when we will again provide notice that the encampment is not authorized and request that campers voluntarily leave.
  • Homeless service providers will gather nearby to offer services and resources for three consecutive days this week: 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday March 10, Thursday March 11, and Friday March 12 at the front entrance to Civic Stadium. This information will be distributed to campers so they can access services.
  • On March 16, City crews from the Public Works and Parks departments will remove any belongings that remain and begin clean-up and repairs.
  • The City intends to avoid a large law enforcement response while disbanding this camp. City officials urge campers to re-connect with services and leave on their own. If these efforts are not successful, or if clean-up crews are confronted with any form of violence, law enforcement assistance will reluctantly be requested as a last resort.

Video of the meeting when available will be posted at meetings.cob.org. Mayor Fleetwood’s remarks are near the end of the meeting, during Old/New Business on the agenda.

What is the current situation at the Geri Field encampment (3/8/21)?

  • Observers estimate 25 people are residing there. The site appears to contain many abandoned tents and discarded belongings.
  • Camp residents and volunteers continue to receive donations from well-meaning community members, further enabling a difficult situation.
  • The site has been damaged extensively including damage from people breaking into the restroom building, tampering with power supply, burning in multiple locations. There is extensive refuse, including feces and needles.
  • Police calls for service within the encampment are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as officers have been met with interference and hostility when they try to respond.
  • Homeless service agencies are unwilling to enter the site to serve the campers due to safety concerns and hostility directed toward them.
  • Agency representatives are willing to make themselves available at a nearby location and plans to do so are scheduled, though they question whether this will be effective.
  • Legitimate public uses of the field require it be cleared as soon as possible to allow time for repairs and restoration. Recreational uses and scheduled activities will begin as soon as the camp is cleared and the area is made safe.

Why did the City allow this encampment?

  • The City did not sanction this camp and did not assist in its creation.
  • It is an unauthorized, unpermitted, illegal encampment, set up by some residents and volunteers who were involved with the encampment at City Hall.
  • Overnight camping in any City parks is not allowed by City municipal code without a permit.

Who is residing at the unauthorized Geri Field?

  • According to service providers with direct experience with many of the individuals, most of the camp residents are members of the chronic unsheltered, which is the most difficult-to-serve homeless population. Many of the chronic unsheltered population have complex and significant challenges such as addiction, aggression, and mental health issues, which hinder their ability to succeed in group settings or in social service programs.

Why can’t the City host a no-barrier encampment?

  • No-barrier housing is a “harm reduction” model in which residents are not restricted from drug and alcohol use, very few rules are established regarding behavior, and aggressive behavior is often left to the police to handle.
  • As barriers are lowered or eliminated, risks to public safety increase significantly. Credentialed individuals with experience working with the chronic unsheltered are needed to ensure that encampment residents and the community in general are safe.
  • City ordinances currently allow for very-low barrier encampments, provided that credentialed professionals with experience working with the chronic unsheltered are on-site.
  • The City can act as a funder for very-low barrier encampments and has offered to do so.  A process exists for organizations to apply for funding to support encampments and other programs.

Where will the campers go?

  • Reasonable alternatives for shelter are immediately available, including Base Camp and other programs, and we encourage campers to use those services. Others may return to dispersed small encampments located throughout our community. Some who have no ties to Bellingham will move on to other communities.
  • Most are eligible for Base Camp services if they can follow the basic behavioral rules in place to protect the health and safety of all shelter users.
  • Base Camp offers rapid COVID-19 screening at any time of day. Anyone in need of shelter is welcome to walk up to Base Camp or to call ahead and schedule an appointment for screening. If the COVID test is negative, most will be admitted on the spot. If the test is positive, they will work with the individual and the Whatcom County Health Department to connect them with the Isolation and Quarantine Facility.

Have 911 calls and criminal activity increased due to this encampment?

  • Calls for law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services have increased because of actual and perceived issues with the camp.
  • There has been an increase in requests for police presence by surrounding businesses and residents, which comprise a lot of the increased calls.
  • High profile incidents have included propane tank explosions that caused tent and structure fires, a camper injured when hit with a brick by another camper, and an assault on 11-year-old girl when leaving a business near the encampment.
  • Public nuisance and property crimes have increased slightly in this area when compared to same time last year.

What will happen if people do not leave the Geri Field camp?

  • The City Hall encampment required an extensive law enforcement response that is not likely to be necessary at Geri Field. The circumstances at these two locations are very different.
  • If voluntary compliance is not successful and people refuse to leave, or if there are people confronting the clean-up effort or endangering the safety of City crews, law enforcement may be asked to respond. This will be a last resort.
  • If such a response becomes necessary officers may be seen in full gear, as they must be properly prepared and equipped to perform their duties safely and effectively.

Why has the City delayed removing the Geri Field encampment?

  • City officials announced it was not authorized and is illegal as soon as it was created on January 28.
  • Formal legal notice to vacate was posted on February 2, giving a February 5 deadline.
  • Severe weather delayed initial City action.
  • Action was further delayed while the City Council considered a proposal made by community members to allow encampments on City property. The proposal was not advanced out of Council committee at the Feb. 22 meeting. Planning to engage services and end the encampment resumed immediately.
  • Over recent months, City officials have explored many avenues for finding ways to allow an encampment and for connecting residents to our community’s many programs and facilities. We have nearly exhausted these efforts.

Who is organizing the camp at Geri Field?

  • The camp is said to be self-run by residents with the assistance of volunteers and donated supplies.
  • Some volunteers are affiliated with the BOP (Bellingham Occupied Protest) Mutual Aid group, which promotes protests (or “black bloc” “strikes”) that have resulted in vandalism to public buildings and private homes, acts of intimidation that appear to use the issue of homelessness to further broader social causes.

What is the Bellingham Police Department’s role in responding to calls within the Geri Field camp and in disbanding it?

  • Service decisions for law enforcement calls about activities within the camp are made by Bellingham Police, based on type and severity of the incident, time of day, and number of officers available to safely enter the encampment, all intended to protect the safety of all — camp residents, volunteers, officers, members of the public.
  • Police serve a support role, not a decision-making role, on when to clear the encampment and in the clean-up process. The decision to disband the Geri Field camp is made by the City administration based on applicable laws and public health and safety guidance.

What has been the biggest challenge to serving the homeless population this winter?

  • According to area homeless services providers, the top challenge to serving the homeless population this winter has been the “Camp 210” encampments at City Hall and Geri Field. These encampments have:
    • Disconnected individuals from services, medications, and caseworkers, and created an atmosphere with no rules or boundaries, reversing the progress of many clients toward overcoming personal struggles and obstacles.
    • Undermined the legitimacy of an agreed-upon county-wide strategy and the multiple agencies that serve this population every day.
    • Reduced the use of indoor, fully staffed, and operated shelters, resulting in those services being underutilized.
    • Violated CDC guidelines for social distancing and avoiding groups.
  • While Camp 210 increased community awareness of and support for the needs of people experiencing homelessness, this attention has come at a cost, including the problems listed above and serious health and safety concerns.

What is the City doing about homelessness?

  • Bellingham is a compassionate and caring community, evidenced in many ways including by strong voter approval of the most recent Home Fund housing levy.
  • The City is doing more than ever, investing millions every year to address homelessness.
    • 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.
  • More information:

The Bellingham City Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday afternoon, February 22, included an analysis of proposed code amendments for tent encampments and camping in public places, a review of operations of the recent temporary warming site held at Depot Market Square, and a summary of plans for upcoming Council work sessions to review City housing policy. The video of the work session can be found at meetings.cob.org. During this meeting, Mayor Fleetwood stated that it remains the City’s intention to go through the steps of ending the encampment in the lower parking lot of Geri Field.

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.

An estimated 175 guests (some who were repeat guests) were assisted by 88 volunteers and four full-time oversight staff while the site was open. At the closing of the site we 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.

More information about the site and its operation available on our Depot Market Square temporary warming site page.

City staff said no steps would be taken to move those staying at the unauthorized encampment at the Geri Field lower parking lot during this week of bitter cold and snow.

Some residents and volunteers involved with the encampment at City Hall set up an encampment in the lower Geri Field parking lot in the Civic Athletic Complex. Overnight camping in City parks is not allowed by City municipal code without a permit.

This afternoon we posted the required legal notice to inform people at the Geri field encampment that they must remove their belongings and leave by 4 p.m. Friday, February 5, 2021**. Please help us encourage campers to find shelter elsewhere. Space is available at the Base Camp shelter, and at its overflow facility, offering warm, dry beds, meals, showers, laundry facilities and other services.

The City did not sanction this new camp following the removal of the City Hall encampment and did not assist in its creation.

We remain actively engaged in the effort to build increased sheltering options, in collaboration with multiple partners and advocates for those living unsheltered.

**Mayor Fleetwood stated on February 5 that the City established a deadline of 4 p.m. February 5, and posted notice of it on site, for people to leave the Geri Field lower parking lot. “We never said there was a planned dispersal action today. We do not provide details of our operations, especially knowing there are hostile protestors who wish to disrupt our efforts, as evidenced by our experience at City Hall on January 28.”

The City undertook a significant effort Thursday January 28, 2021, when we ended the encampment at City Hall. We understand the impact of this effort is deeply felt in our community, generating a wide range of reactions. We remain firm that our response was necessary to protect the safety of everyone involved and we remain actively engaged in follow up this weekend, both in our public safety response and in our active efforts to increase shelter. We remain actively engaged in the effort to build increased sheltering options, in collaboration with multiple partners and advocates for those living unsheltered.

We are aware that some who moved from the City Hall encampment took advantage of available shelter space and services. Others chose not to use available shelter options and moved themselves, with the help of volunteers, to a parking lot at the Civic Athletic complex. This creates another situation to be addressed though certainly not as substantial as our work at City Hall on Thursday.

As it relates to the encampment that has started at Civic, located in the lower parking lot at Frank Geri field:

  • Overnight camping in City Parks is illegal without a permit from the City of Bellingham.
  • The City did not sanction this new camp following the removal of the City Hall illegal encampment and did not assist in its creation.
  • The City will not sanction nor support this encampment. As you will recall, Camp 210 had over 60 significant calls for service due to violence, theft, drugs and mental-health related issues. Neither Camp 210’s organizers and/or residents demonstrated the ability to operate an encampment safely.
  • The City will follow its existing policies regarding illegal camping in parks and is asking campers to leave.
  • The City has two current tiny home villages with Homes Now! and is actively developing a third permitted facility with an additional provider.
  • The City has funding available for site development and infrastructure and will identify additional sites to partner with additional providers willing and qualified to operate tiny home villages.
  • Space is currently available at Base Camp and the overflow facility as well as other options provided by the City, Whatcom County and partner agencies providing support for people experiencing homelessness.

Important distinction about locations:

  • The Frank Geri field at the Civic Athletic complex has two parking lots, upper and lower:
    • The upper parking lot is where HomesNow! Swift Haven is located.
    • The lower parking lot is where Camp 210 moved on Thursday.

City Hall Encampment

Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood provided an overview of the circumstances that led to disbanding the City Hall encampment on January 28 and the steps taken by Bellingham Police and Public Works on that day. The overview is followed by discussion by City Council about next steps. View the video of the February 8 Committee of the Whole meeting at meetings.cob.org. Video will be posted on Tuesday, February 9, replayed on BTV in the weeks ahead.

Whatcom County Health Department representatives provided an overview of collaborative local government and partner efforts to serve those experiencing homelessness. Video is available at meetings.cob.org.

Viewer discretion is advised as there are intense images and strong language throughout the video.

On January 28, 2021, the City of Bellingham moved to clean the illegal encampment at City Hall. This was an endeavor taken on by multiple city departments to safely assist the campers in moving their belongings. After police secured a fortified structure and the cache of improvised weapon, many of the campers began to peacefully gather their belongings.

This video was compiled from Bellingham Police body worn camera footage and depicts short portions of the hours’ long event.

Some residents and volunteers involved with the encampment at City Hall set up an encampment in the lower Geri Field parking lot in the Civic Athletic Complex. Overnight camping in City parks is not allowed by City municipal code without a permit.

This afternoon we posted the required legal notice to inform people at the Geri field encampment that they must remove their belongings and leave by 4 p.m. Friday, February 5, 2021. Please help us encourage campers to find shelter elsewhere. Space is available at the Base Camp shelter, and at its overflow facility, offering warm, dry beds, meals, showers, laundry facilities and other services.

The City did not sanction this new camp following the removal of the City Hall encampment and did not assist in its creation.

We remain actively engaged in the effort to build increased sheltering options, in collaboration with multiple partners and advocates for those living unsheltered.

  • Bellingham City Hall reopens on Monday, February 1, 2021. Individual offices within City Hall remain locked but services are being provided per their COVID-19 plans. See the City Closures page for details.
  • Municipal Court remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Bellingham Public Library remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. See Library website for timeline to resume curbside service. 

Employees who work in City Hall, the Municipal Court building, and the Central Library should report to their work locations as scheduled on Monday, February 1, 2021. Please contact your supervisor for details.

  • City Hall reopens for business on Monday, February 1, 2021, with COVID-19 office closures in place. Employees should report to their work locations as scheduled on Monday, February 1, 2021.
  • Municipal Court remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. Employees who work in the Municipal Court building should report to their work locations as scheduled on Monday, February 1, 2021.
  • Library remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. See Library website for timeline to resume curbside service. Library employees should report to their work locations as scheduled on Monday, February 1, 2021.

Many members of our community have questions about how the January 28 encampment clearing was conducted. See below for answers to frequently asked questions. This is in addition to the information provided at the January 28 media briefing.

Why did you act early? Was the posted date a ruse? Did you lie?

We did not plan in advance to remove the encampment earlier than stated.

It was our intention to honor the posted 4 p.m. Friday, January 29 deadline, then conduct a deliberate, safe removal after the deadline. Our plans changed after widespread calls were made by some encampment volunteers for protestors to come to Bellingham on Friday, January 29 . We received verified information that people with ties to extremist groups intended to come to Bellingham to cause further damage. This new information was received while we were in a state of heightened concern after the events of Friday, January 22.

We acted early in an effort reduce the numbers of protestors on the scene, especially those traveling to our city from out of town, thus providing a more secure environment for campers to move and City crews to clean up.

Why was a large law enforcement response necessary?

Widespread calls were made by some encampment volunteers for local and out-of-town protestors to come to Bellingham on Friday, January 29. Law enforcement agencies were receiving, and verifying, information that people with ties to extremist groups intended to come to cause further damage.

The Bellingham Police SWAT team is well-trained and qualified to respond to such threats. They quickly secured the fortified structure while civil disturbance personnel positioned themselves in a protective line, maintaining a secure area for campers to collect their belongings and leave, and a secure scene for Public Works crews to clean up afterwards. Some SWAT personnel positioned themselves on top of buildings in the Civic Center for the best overall view of the area, to contribute to the security of the area.

Measures of precaution will always be taken when we are faced with information about direct threats. We all have seen protests quickly change from peaceful to manageable to violent, especially in recent months when extremist groups intermingle with local protestors.

Our officers comported themselves in a professional manner while ensuring the safety of campers, members of the public, and City employees. They were in their standard uniforms designed for the specialty unit in which they serve. They carried their assigned firearms, including less lethal weapons systems.  At no time did officers point their firearms at anyone.

We remain certain that our response was necessary to protect the safety of everyone involved and we remained actively engaged in follow up over the weekend, both in our public safety response and in our active efforts to increase shelter.

Why were officers in tactical uniforms seen on the Bellingham Police Department roof on Friday and Saturday?

Law enforcement agencies continued receiving credible information that additional people with ties to extremist groups had an intent to come to Bellingham to cause further damage, long after the cleanup was complete. We remained vigilant in monitoring information and law enforcement and other personnel stayed on alert throughout the weekend.

There were specific threats made to the Bellingham Police Department building which, if carried out, could potentially cause danger to our employees and critical interruption to 9-1-1 services. The personnel positioned on the roof allowed for the best overall view of the Police Department building and parking lot. 

Why weren’t City Council members informed of plans to remove the encampment?

It was stated many times, in public and in individual settings, that the encampment would end in January. Only a few staff members who were critical to the completion of the work were informed in advance. City Council members were notified immediately via email when the operation began at 7:30 a.m. January 28, followed by notifications to all other City staff.

City Council members and others were not notified in advance because the decision to start early was based on serious, verifiable concerns for the safety of campers and all involved. Had information been made public, intentionally or accidentally, we may have been faced with a much larger, more violent group of protesters arriving from out of town.

Why were the Whatcom County Sheriff and U.S. Border Patrol present?

The Whatcom County Sheriff was originally on site to protect the County Courthouse. Sheriff’s deputies assisted with protestors in support of Bellingham Police. The Sheriff requested mutual aid from the Border Patrol, who then also stepped in to assist the Sheriff’s Office. For more information about the Sheriff’s Office response, contact Sheriff Bill Elfo.

Why was the National Guard present?

The National Guard was not present nor requested.

Why weren’t service providers there to help campers?

Service providers had been threatened and harassed by individuals associated with the encampment throughout its duration. Such treatment was experienced by social services workers, law enforcement personal, emergency medical services providers, City employees, County employees and others from multiple agencies. Some service providers came to assist in the early days of the encampment, such as the Health Department offering COVID-19 testing and related outreach onsite for several weeks.

Most service providers felt increasingly threatened and most eventually chose, for their own personal health and safety, to not enter the encampment. These circumstances, among many other concerns, further highlighted the need to end the encampment.

Why were so many tents and other items thrown away? How may campers access their belongings?  

The notices posted at City Hall stated, in part: “As part of the clean-up, the City will remove all remaining litter, garbage, refuse, waste and personal property. Litter, garbage, refuse, and waste left at the site will be discarded. Personal property that poses a health or personal safety risk will also be discarded. All salvageable personal property left behind and collected by the City will be stored at no cost for 60 days. Personal property collected by the City can be reclaimed by contacting the City at 360-778-8850. Personal property not reclaimed within 60 days will be disposed of in accordance with RCW 63.32.” The City followed this protocol.

Why did you move the encampment to Civic Field? How long will it stay there?

We are aware that some who moved from the City Hall encampment took advantage of available shelter space and services. Others chose not to use available shelter options and moved themselves, with the help of individuals not associated with the City, to a parking lot at the Civic Athletic complex in the lower parking lot at Frank Geri field.

The City did not sanction this new location following the removal of the City Hall encampment and did not assist in its creation. Overnight camping in City Parks is illegal without a permit from the City of Bellingham. The City will follow its existing policies regarding illegal camping in parks and is asking campers to leave.

The City undertook a significant effort Thursday when we ended the encampment at City Hall. We understand the impact of this effort is deeply felt in our community, generating a wide range of reactions. We remain firm that our response was necessary to protect the safety of everyone involved and we remain actively engaged in follow up this weekend, both in our public safety response and in our active efforts to increase shelter. We remain actively engaged in the effort to build increased sheltering options, in collaboration with multiple partners and advocates for those living unsheltered.

We are aware that some who moved from the City Hall encampment took advantage of available shelter space and services. Others chose not to use available shelter options and moved themselves, with the help of volunteers, to a parking lot at the Civic Athletic complex. This creates another situation to be addressed though certainly not as substantial as our work at City Hall on Thursday.

As it relates to the encampment that has started at Civic, located in the lower parking lot at Frank Geri field:

  • Overnight camping in City Parks is illegal without a permit from the City of Bellingham.
  • The City did not sanction this new camp following the removal of the City Hall illegal encampment and did not assist in its creation.
  • The City will not sanction nor support this encampment. As you will recall, Camp 210 had over 60 significant calls for service due to violence, theft, drugs and mental-health related issues. Neither Camp 210’s organizers and/or residents demonstrated the ability to operate an encampment safely.
  • The City will follow its existing policies regarding illegal camping in parks and is asking campers to leave.
  • The City has two current tiny home villages with Homes Now! and is actively developing a third permitted facility with an additional provider.
  • The City has funding available for site development and infrastructure and will identify additional sites to partner with additional providers willing and qualified to operate tiny home villages.
  • Space is currently available at Base Camp and the overflow facility as well as other options provided by the City, Whatcom County and partner agencies providing support for people experiencing homelessness.

Important distinction about locations:

  • The Frank Geri field at the Civic Athletic complex has two parking lots, upper and lower:
    • The upper parking lot is where Swift Haven is located.
    • The lower parking lot is where Camp 210 moved on Thursday.

Video of encampment news briefing, held at 4:00 p.m. January 28, 2021

News briefing statement by Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood:

“Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. I am Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and with me today is Police Chief Flo Simon.

I am going to give a few remarks, then invite Chief Simon to provide additional information, then we will have time to take a few questions.

We took urgent, emergency action this morning outside Bellingham City Hall to protect the safety of all: people who have been living unsheltered on the lawn, members of the public who wish to conduct civic business, and employees of the City, the County and businesses in our civic center.

I authorized this action only after careful thought and consultation, because it occurred in advance of our stated deadline. We initiated the clean up early because we received credible information from multiple sources that caused us to accelerate our plans. Our civic center was becoming the target of agitators far more intent on mayhem than working toward any social good. More specifically, we received information regarding certain groups known to have a history of confrontation. They put out a call throughout the Northwest to gather in Bellingham on Friday.

We acted today to reduce the risk of further injury, violence, and vandalism by those who are using the plight of our community’s most vulnerable to further their own agenda.

This concern regarding agitators was compounded by incidents at the encampment, which have greatly escalated in recent weeks, and the presence of a fortified wooden structure built outside the front doors containing interior spaces and unknown items. We have seen tensions rise and an increase in fights and violence, threats to people who walk by, mental health episodes, likely drug transactions, and other criminal behavior. This is in addition to serious public health risks caused by human and animal waste, refuse, lack of mask wearing and social distancing necessary to prevent COVID-19.

Let me give you some background.

A tent encampment began on the lawn in front of City Hall in mid-November, later expanding to the north lawn of the Central Library. Many who are experiencing homelessness have been staying at the encampment, aided by volunteers, working as a collective, accepting donations, providing food and other necessities and – as an occupied protest – bringing attention to the needs of those who are unsheltered.

Encampment residents along with their advocates seek additional winter shelter from their local governments. We have acknowledged this need and we are making solid and diligent progress.

During the course of our negotiations, the number and nature of incidents at the site have greatly escalated especially in recent weeks.

Tensions flared further during a confrontation last Friday, when intentional agitators joined peaceful protestors as we tried to clear a safety zone around City Hall. The actions of these agitators, many of whom we believe came from outside of Bellingham, were a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness and put them at increased risk.

Incidents requiring police, fire and emergency medical responses continued over the weekend, thus our decision to entirely close City Hall and the Library for the week.

We proceeded with the required legal notice to inform encampment residents that they must remove their belongings and leave by 4 p.m. Friday, January 29. This follows our intentions, stated repeatedly during the past month, that this temporary encampment, which violates our municipal code, must end in January.

Today, Police worked to secure the scene, provide a safe setting for camp residents to move and a safe working environment for Public Works crews to assist campers with their cleanup efforts. Public Works crews assisted campers in gathering their belongings, offering transportation, and connections to find safe shelter and other services. While many residing at the encampment are leaving the area willingly and peacefully, several protestors have assaulted officers who are maintaining a safety line.”

News briefing statement by Bellingham Police Chief Flo Simon

“Good Afternoon, I am Chief Flo Simon from the Bellingham Police Department.

We appreciate you coming and gathering for this press conference today and being patient with us.

The encampment at City Hall began on November 11, 2020 with five tents, four of which were empty.   Over the course of the past two and a half months, it has grown to what you are able to see today.  During this same time period, BPD officers have had to respond to over 60 calls, many of which were safety, hazard and crime related.   These reports included several felony assaults with suspects from the encampment using weapons like hatchets, broken sticks and pieces of wood against each other and members of the public.  There also have been numerous fights, misdemeanor assaults, domestic violence incidents and other dangerous behavior.

On 12-5-2020 a tent was set on fire, which caused propane tanks to explode putting the public library, employees, citizens and other people in tents in considerable danger.  This prompted the city to enact a 25-foot safety barrier around the library, which was established and adhered to.

As time passed, many more fire pits were established throughout the lawn of City Hall, as well as tents and structures built from pallets and plywood.  These were in very close proximity to the City Hall building itself.  A 25-foot safety zone was needed to ensure the safety of the building and employees inside, much like the library.  This was posted on Friday Jan 22nd, and immediately met with resistance and a call for protest and action to stop the enactment of the safety zone. 

You are all aware of the events of last Friday, blocked streets, malicious mischief, culminating with several people prying open the locked doors of City Hall and entering the building.  Though all who entered left peacefully, the show of force was clear.

Given the totality of the events over the past couple of months, City leadership made the decision to post notices on Tuesday alerting the entire camp that it needed to end and be moved out.  During the process of posting the notices, Bellingham PW employees were harassed, chased and a person from the encampment tried jumping into their vehicle, presumably to steal it and keep the employees from doing their job.  Another person from the encampment threw rocks at the windows of City Hall, breaking them.

Information provided to and gathered by BPD about calls for large numbers of protesters, from Bellingham and outside the area, to come to City Hall and interfere with and stop any potential clean-up of the encampment on Friday, led us to realize it would be difficult to maintain the safety of our employees, residents and those in the tents.  A plan was recommended to the Mayor to end the camp prior to Friday, given the credible information of large number of protesters being called for to respond and interfere with a peaceful resolution. 

This clean-up of the encampment is a city of Bellingham endeavor and there are several departments working in concert to accomplish this as safely as possible.  As the Mayor has said, and I agree, circumstances at City Hall and the Library have become entirely untenable and if there is confrontation, we are not the aggressors.  The BPD’s responsibility today is to establish and maintain a safe working space for COB PW employees to be able to clean up the City Hall and COB Library lawn.

As of this afternoon 4 people have been arrested for crimes including disorderly conduct and assault 3rd degree. Three officers were assaulted, no injuries were reported.”

UPDATE #1: This morning Bellingham Police moved to secure the area to allow Bellingham Public Works to clear the encampment at City Hall and the Library lawn. Streets in the downtown Civic Center are closed to traffic. Thank you for avoiding the area while our officers and others assist encampment residents gather their belongings, obtain transportation and seek safe shelter. We will update this information throughout the day.

UPDATE #2: Bellingham Police Officers responded to City Hall this morning to secure the encampment on the lawn. There have been significant, ongoing safety concerns in and around the encampment for the past several weeks, including a fortified structure containing unknown items outside the front doors. All those at the encampment were given notice and the opportunity to collect or store their property and leave the lawn. Police have worked this morning to secure the scene, provide a safe setting for camp residents to move and a safe working environment for Public Works to begin the cleanup. They also are assisting campers in gathering their belongings, obtaining transportation, and finding safe shelter and other services. While many residing at the encampment are leaving the area willingly and peacefully, several protestors have assaulted officers who are maintaining a safety line. This is a complex and rapidly evolving situation, please be patient and we will provide information as we are able. More encampment information at cob.org/encampment.

The encampment has raised many questions about homelessness in our community. Here are resources to learn more:

Homelessness FAQs 2021

Bellingham Home Fund Story Map

State of Housing and Homelessness

Early this morning we provided the required legal notice to inform people on the City Hall and Library lawns that they must remove their belongings and leave by 4 p.m. Friday, January 29. This follows our intentions, stated repeatedly during the past month, that this illegal encampment must end in January. Please help us encourage campers to find shelter elsewhere. Space is available at the Base Camp shelter and at its overflow facility.

The City supports the operation of these shelter facilities as well as Homes Now tiny home villages. We are in the process of developing additional tiny home facilities with a qualified operator. We will continue to develop other options for low-barrier facilities to provide safe shelter for those in need, along with Whatcom County and the other partner organizations.

We also urge those who have been delivering donations outside City Hall to redirect your compassionate efforts. Please consider donating to local organizations with whom the City is partnering on shelter options: LMM’s Base Camp, Homes Now, Road2Home, or consider supporting any of the local housing and human services non-profits that provide shelter and housing services, including Opportunity Council, Lydia Place, Northwest Youth Services, Sun Community Services, Catholic Community Services, YWCA, Interfaith Coalition, Mercy Housing Northwest and Sean Humphrey House.

The encampment was addressed many times during the January 25 Bellingham City Council meeting, including during the Mayor’s report, throughout the public comment period, and in follow up remarks by Council members and Mayor Fleetwood after the public comment period.

Bellingham City Hall and Bellingham Public Library Central Library will remain closed to the public and employees for this week, out of an abundance of caution for the safety of all — campers, volunteers, City employees and members of the public. Those with City business to conduct during this week should contact the relevant department by telephone or email using information provided on the All City Contacts page.

Bellingham City Hall and Bellingham Public Library’s Central Library remain closed to employees and the public on Monday, January 25, and library curbside and other services suspended, to allow City officials to assess the circumstances surrounding both buildings in light of the events at the encampment on Friday, January 22.

About protesters entering City Hall at 12:30 p.m. January 22:

Several of the folks protesting pried open the doors to City Hall and about 20 or so walked into the main lobby. There was no damage done and no one was hurt. Once the door to City Hall was pried open and there was a need to get the doors secured again, several Bellingham Police officers were asked to respond to assist Public Works employees in securing the doors to City Hall. This was necessary as City Hall is closed to the public due to COVID-19. When officers arrived, all the folks were asked to leave, and they did so promptly. After all left, the doors were secured without incident. There were no arrests made today at City Hall.

About an injury incident at 10:49 p.m. January 22:

On 1-22-2021 at approximately 10:49 p.m., there was a confrontation between two groups of people near the intersection of Lottie and Grand Ave. One group (victims) was in two separate cars, while the other group (suspects) were on foot and came from the encampment. The confrontation resulted in two members of the victim group sustaining injuries from the use of a hatchet by a male suspect. Victim 2 sustained a broken nose from being struck by the male suspect with the hatchet. Victim 3 sustained serious, non-life-threatening injuries to his neck, after being struck by the sharp side of the hatchet by the same male suspect. At one point another suspect brandished a gun, threatening Victims 1, 2 and 3. The victim group left, called police, and sought medical treatment at the ER. The investigating officers met the group at the ER to begin the investigation into what happened. The investigation as to the identity of the suspects is ongoing. We will provide further information if/when arrests are made.

About this morning’s events at City Hall:

We seek a peaceful end to the encampment. If there is confrontation, we are not the aggressors.

Most campers have not complied with our request to create a 25-foot fire and safety area. Protestors blocked access to the area this morning and members of the news media and many others were threatened and harassed.

Circumstances at City Hall and the Library lawn are entirely untenable, escalated largely by protestors and outside agitators who are not residents of the encampment. Their actions are a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness and putting them at increased risk.

I ask all involved to help us encourage unsheltered people to seek services at Base Camp, and help us ensure a safe end to the encampment, in light of the significant public safety and health risks it poses to campers, volunteers, staff and community members.

About the status of negotiations with encampment representatives:

We engaged in good faith, professional, civil discussions from the very beginning of the encampment in November, in an effort to work together to provide additional shelter options.

We worked with collective representatives who had expressed interest in being a potential operator of a tiny home encampment. We offered to provide funding for credentialed professionals to help oversee an additional winter shelter option. In collaboration with the Port and the County, we offered a site and additional tiny homes. We offered reasonable conditions for working together and were eager to do so.

We met with collective representatives more than 10 times, comprising at least 15 hours’ worth of engagement including conversation as recently as yesterday (Thursday, January 21). This is in addition to many additional hours of staff time exploring ways to meet the interest of the collective. During our first meeting, the collective stated that 50 additional shelter spots were needed. With the City’s establishment of Swift Haven and the proposal for the Port site, that demand was met. Unfortunately, the demands increased over time without consideration of what is already available.

After much discussion and negotiation, our offers were rejected by the collective. The site we offered was 25 tiny homes. The advocates insisted on more, indicating that only moving every City Hall camper to the same location would be accepted.

We are disappointed because we are committed to increasing shelter capacity and have demonstrated that commitment. We pursued and supported Swift Haven, a temporary tiny home village at the Civic Athletic Complex operated by Homes Now! Homes Now! has indicated an interest in operating another site and we remain in close contact.

We are following through on plans for establishing an additional tiny home village later this spring, at a site yet to be determined.

We will continue our collaboration with Whatcom County officials and service providers on short- and long-term solutions to providing safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

Meanwhile, Base Camp offers warm, dry beds for most of those who have been staying at City Hall. With cold weather in the forecast, we encourage advocates for those experiencing homelessness to join us in encouraging people to go to Base Camp for shelter.

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu issued a statement on the Whatcom County Government Facebook page about the events at City Hall.

On Tuesday, January 19, we initiated the effort to create a safety barrier around City Hall by providing signs and having conversations with individual campers and volunteers. This fire protection area is being created per the City Fire Marshal, similar to the fire protection area we created around the Central Library building last month. Those camping are being asked to move 25 feet away from the building. They have several days to move their belongings.

We asked at the beginning of the encampment that a safety zone — free of campers, fires and belongings — be left around the perimeter of the building. This did not occur.

Over the duration of the camp, risks around the building have increased: there are more fire pits, more burn barrels, more propane tanks, more wood, more structures. There is an increased quantity of combustible material that was not there a month ago, which increases the risks of fires and explosions. We created the fire safety perimeter around the Central Library last month after a propane tank exploded near the building.

We’re taking reasonable measures to increase safety for the duration of the camp, to protect campers, volunteers, city employees and members of the public using City Hall.

We have asked that they move by Friday morning, giving several days to move their belongings, and staff will check back in daily. Just like when we created the fire safety area around the Central Library, we will be humane, helpful and flexible in making this move. Our goal is creating a safety zone around City Hall.

We hope campers will take this opportunity to check in to Base Camp, where there are dozens of warm, dry beds, meals and other services.

This is the first step in our incremental approach to meeting our stated commitment to end the encampment this month. Our conversations with advocates and encampment representatives continue, as does our collaboration with County officials and service providers on short- and long-term solutions to providing safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

City Public Works crews initiated creating a 25-foot fire and safety protection area around City Hall on January 19 by posting signs and speaking with individual campers and volunteers.

This fire and safety protection area is being created per the Fire Marshal, similar to the area created around the Central Library building last month (see December 22 entry, below).

Campers are being asked to move 25 feet away from the building by Friday, January 22.

LMM staff provided a handout today for distribution among campers and others, noting that “everyone is welcome” and offering information about how to gain entry to the Base Camp shelter, including those who have been restricted from entry in the past.

In a Facebook post, Homes Now! announces that Swift Haven at Civic Field is fully occupied, providing tiny home housing for 25 people. Homes Now! Facebook page

The Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council met in a special joint meeting to discuss winter shelter and issues related to homelessness. The video of the meeting can be viewed on the City’s meetings portal at meetings.cob.org.

The Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council have scheduled a joint meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, January 11, 2021, for discussion and possible action on shelter and other issues related to homelessness in Whatcom County.

The meeting agenda for the January 11 special meeting posted on the City’s meetings webpage, along with agendas and meeting materials for the Bellingham City Council committees and regular meetings the same day. Council members will participate in this meeting remotely through an online web-based meeting platform. Council meetings are streamed live via the City’s website at meetings.cob.org and on the City’s YouTube channel

The first set of individual shelters were delivered today to Swift Haven, the tiny home site operated by Homes Now in the Geri Field parking lot. The modular structures were purchased by Whatcom County for this purpose, as part of collaborative efforts to increase winter shelter capacity. See Whatcom County’s Facebook page for photos and more information.

Mayor Seth Fleetwood made the following statement to The Bellingham Herald: “We have acknowledged that local governments need to increase winter sheltering capacity and we are making solid and diligent progress to do so. Partnering with Whatcom County and Homes Now is a key step in that process. Together, we have established a new winter shelter site at the Geri Field parking lot – called Swift Haven – and we are actively in discussion with a potential operator for yet an additional site. This new capacity is in addition to the shelter operated by Lighthouse Mission Ministries, known as Base Camp, which has capacity for 200 people and rapid COVID-19 testing procedures in place for people to return there. This progress to increase winter shelter capacity creates the conditions to end the encampment at City Hall, which we expect to occur in January.”

The City license for Homes Now! to operate the Swift Haven temporary winter shelter is complete and representatives have access to the site to begin their work. Swift Haven will start with tents, and as modular structures purchased by Whatcom County become available, tents will be replaced with them. (See also December 10 announcement below about use of Civic Athletic Center Geri Field parking lot by Homes Now! for temporary emergency winter shelter.)

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu confirmed in an email today that county officials have placed an order for 50 individual shelters from 360Modular, a local Ferndale company. As of today, the company confirmed that 25 units will be delivered by end of December and another 25 by January 15, 2021.

“My office has communicated the urgency of the situation to the vendor and have asked them to expedite the shipments ASAP. I understand fully that we as Whatcom County community (public – private partnership) must do more than just severe weather shelters and pursue longer-term solutions,” County Executive Sidhu said.

“The limiting factors continue to be the availability of suitable locations, site readiness with utilities and amenities along with proper management with certified case worker availability. Just purchasing the units is not enough to successfully deploy them as functioning shelter,” he said.

Bellingham Public Library resumes curbside pickup service appointments today. Thank you for your patience. The temporary pause allowed us to create a fire protection buffer at the Central Library and to reaffirm that all of our health and safety protocols are accurate and up to date.

We look forward to providing you materials – and we are happy to announce new services, including a new way to schedule curbside appointments using the MyLIBRO web portal and MyLIBRO App and opening the returns bins at the Fairhaven and Barkley branches.

More details at bellinghampubliclibrary.org

Base Camp now has the capacity to offer rapid COVID-19 screening at any time of day. Anyone in need of shelter is welcome to walk up to Base Camp or to call ahead and schedule an appointment for screening (360-733-5120 x215). If the antigen test is negative, the person will be admitted on the spot. If the test is positive, they will work with the individual and the Health Department to connect them with the Isolation and Quarantine Facility.

Check with Lighthouse Mission Ministries for more information on Base Camp services.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ (LMM) Base Camp is able to accept more people into its homeless services center in Bellingham after gaining the capability on December 15 to administer a rapid COVID-19 test.

LMM officials said the new screening process has limited capacity and is only done in the early afternoon hours. They encourage potential guests of Base Camp to call 360-733-5120 ext. 215 or get in contact with Basecamp staff to set-up an appointment.

Prior to this new screening process, LMM officials restricted for more than a week who could stay at Base Camp to those who had stayed continuously there or who came from a verified source, such as hospital or jail, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions were put in place in early December, after three guests and one staff member had positive tests.

More details about Base Camp rapid testing and other efforts to safely welcome guests can be found on the LMM website Base Camp COVID-19 Update page.

We announced today the City is working with Homes Now! to locate a temporary emergency winter shelter at the Civic Athletic Complex in the Geri Field parking lot.

We are actively engaged in the urgent work of creating the conditions to end the encampment at City Hall and this is a key step in that work.

On Thursday, Dec. 10, City crews began the work to prepare the Geri Field parking lot to house up to 28 people. We anticipate the site will be ready for occupancy next week.

We are working with Whatcom County in their efforts to procure modular tiny homes and expect to locate tiny homes at this site when they arrive, anticipated later this month. Homes Now! intends to house people at this location who have been screened by their organization and the Bellingham Police Department. It will be supervised at all times and will be authorized until Spring 2021. (more details below)

We continue to explore additional temporary winter shelter sites with interested partners. More information about our work to increase shelter capacity and address the encampment at City Hall available on the City website.

Due to the significant health concerns associated with potential COVID-19 exposure among our unsheltered community members, the City will be establishing a limited-duration emergency encampment in the Geri Field parking lot at the Civic Complex. This encampment will be operated by Homes Now!, a not-for-profit which has successfully operated two prior similar encampments in Bellingham as well as Unity Village currently in operation at Post Point in Fairhaven.

The emergency encampment will:

  • House up to 28 people who have been screened by both Homes Now! and the Bellingham Police Department;
  • Will be a drug and alcohol-free campus;
  • Will be supervised 24/7 by non-resident volunteers and Homes Now! staff;
  • Will not allow sex offenders;
  • Will close in Spring, 2021 when a longer-term facility at a different location is will open. The City currently selecting an operator from applicants who responded to the City’s Request For Qualifications (RFQ).

The emergency encampment is being developed and authorized under the Governor’s, Mayor’s and County Executive’s declarations of an emergency and executive orders to respond to the high risk of COVID-19 spreading amongst unsheltered community members.

Many community members are aware of the encampment at City Hall, which was initiated to draw attention to the needs of those who live unsheltered and grew to become an unauthorized tent encampment. More information about this posted on the City website.

… I want to fully convey today is that first and foremost, the safety of all is the paramount concern. That goes to everybody, the campers, the volunteers, the public and City employees. …

We are actively engaged in creating the conditions that are going to allow us to increase winter shelter capacity, which has been one of the acknowledgements that we have made and one of the chief things that is being insisted upon by the people that have organized the protest. …

We have three sites that are likely to be utilized. I look forward to making a more public expression on that in the next couple of days. But we are doing the urgent work of creating the conditions to end the encampment. We can’t say the precise date that is going to happen, but everybody is animated and filled with passion to see this tent encampment at City Hall come to a safe end. …

We are participating in this work with our colleagues at the Whatcom County Health Department. They have been very present and engaged, and we continue to follow their guidance and recommendations. They have provided on-site COVID-19 testing on a couple of occasions at City Hall. They have committed to additional testing twice weekly. They have provided health and safety guidelines and requirements to protect public health and mitigate virus spread. And towards that end they’ve been working directly with camp volunteers and organizers. …

The events of the last few days certainly increased concerns and awareness, I think from everybody involved in this. So, I just want you all to know that our team is working with folks to bring this difficult situation to an end.

Health Department provides additional guidance.

In light of recent events outside the Central Library, such as additional COVID-19 cases among campers and the fire on the lawn, as well as an abundance of caution for staff, the public, campers and volunteers, this pause in services will allow the Library to reassess safety measures. More information about library services on the Bellingham Public Library website.

This is in addition to public access to City Hall being temporarily limited to essential business only, per the City’s December 4 statement below.

Bellingham Fire and Police departments respond to fire on Central Library lawn.

Health Department announces identification of two additional cases of COVID-19 among unsheltered individuals at the tent encampment.

The situation is complex, challenging and dynamic. We are actively engaged in the urgent work of creating the conditions to end the encampment at City Hall. The safety of all concerned is paramount. The encampment has caused apprehension among some city staff and members of the public. We have reminded city employees to call 911 if they observe an emergency or illegal behavior, or if they feel their or someone else’s immediate safety is threatened.

Bellingham Police Chief David Doll said his department has increased patrols in the area to help discourage unwanted behaviors. His department has received and responded to reports from encampment volunteers, employees and members of the public, most regarding disruptive or unsettling but not criminal behavior. The Bellingham Police have been and will continue to be responsive to all calls.

The City has continued its practice of limiting access to City Hall offices due to the threat of COVID-19. We share the Whatcom County Health Department’s concerns about the current rapid spread of COVID-19 in our community and are allowing only essential City business to be conducted inside City Hall. Meanwhile, most City Hall employees are working from remote locations, as they have been since mid-March.

We have asked those who are camping and volunteers to take steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19, to keep unwanted behaviors in check, and to take other steps to protect their own and others’ safety.

We have expressed our expectations of organizers, as has the Whatcom County Health Department; some expectations are being met and some are not. That is why we are actively engaged in finding solutions to the real challenges raised by people who are living unsheltered and their advocates, including identifying a qualified operator for managed emergency winter shelter and a more suitable location.

Statement above provided to The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County Health Department provided walk-up COVID-19 testing for campers and volunteers at Bellingham City Hall on December 2 and 6.

Whatcom County Health Department professionals visited the City Hall encampment on November 25 and 29 and provided guidance to encampment volunteers and the City. Health Department officials are particularly concerned for the health and well-being of people living unsheltered who may also have substance use disorder or other behavioral health disorders, or other underlying health conditions, that put them at increased risk for severe illness. They offered broad and specific guidance, to share with camp residents,
volunteers and organizers, for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and protecting campers
vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness.

Advocates for those experiencing homelessness set up camp at City Hall to bring attention to the needs of those who are unsheltered. The initial group soon grew. Since it started on Veterans Day, many experiencing homelessness have joined. This past weekend, the camp spread out to the library lawn.

I made it known that we will make available a public site for emergency winter shelter. We are determining where and under what circumstances we can make a site available.

We have had multiple very good meetings with camp organizers and residents, and these discussions continue. We hear their concerns and have learned a great deal through these negotiations.

I expect we will hear tonight during public comment period from some of those we have been meeting with. I thank them for their commitment to members of our community who are in need.  

We’re actively working on this. I look forward to announcing proposed solutions.

A key part of this discussion is occurring with Whatcom County officials. We are determining if and when pallet shelters might be a useful purchase in our collaborative efforts to provide emergency shelter, in the short- and long-term.

Advocates for those experiencing homelessness and others have set up camp at City Hall to bring attention to the needs of those who are unsheltered. The City is continually working, along with Whatcom County and other partners, on short- and long-term solutions to providing safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

On Thursday evening, November 12, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood made it known that he will make available, as soon as possible, a public site for emergency camping. Though we have more details to work out, and conditions must be met to ensure the safety of both campers and community members, Mayor Fleetwood and his team spent much of Thursday determining where and under what circumstances we can make a site available as soon as possible.

With cold weather upon us, Base Camp regularly being at or close to capacity earlier than anticipated, and our community feeling the financial strains of COVID-19, these are necessary actions to make sure options are available for those who need shelter this winter. We look forward to further discussion about the details of making these short-term solutions available as soon as possible.