Reporting and Cleaning Up Unauthorized Encampments

The City of Bellingham follows an established process for reporting, monitoring and cleaning up unauthorized homeless encampments on public and private property. This work is coordinated by the Bellingham Police Department, in collaboration with other City departments and homeless service providers.

The City of Bellingham does not consider being homeless a crime. Cleanup efforts are intended to help maintain public health and safety for all, including those without stable housing. The City offers a number of direct services for those living unsheltered, including free vouchers for wastewater dumps for people living in recreational vehicles, garbage dumpsters, porta-potties, and access to water and showers.

Summary

  • The City’s camp cleanup actions are complaint driven. Reports about active or abandoned camps are accepted using this form.
  • Clean up of City parks and rights of way take priority for City action.
  • Property owners are responsible for cleanup of camps on private property.
  • Identified City staff review the overall impact of reported camps. For camps on City property, clean up decisions are made based on criteria such as location, potential public health, environmental, and safety hazards, and availability of shelter.
  • Camp occupants are offered shelter and other services, offered storage for their belongings, and notified in advance of clean up actions.
  • All camp clean ups are evaluated, prioritized, noticed and scheduled. Indiscriminate “sweeps” of camps without notice are not conducted.
  • COVID-19 and the availability of shelter may affect City camp cleanups.

Report an unauthorized camp

Please use use this form to report an active or abandoned encampment. Reporting camps assists the City in monitoring and prioritizing clean up.

After a camp is reported

  1. The report is entered into a database shared by several City departments.
  2. A site visit is made for staff to evaluate the camp and determine next steps, based on established procedures.
  3. The camp is scheduled for outreach by the Homeless Outreach Team, which assists unsheltered people by notifying them of available resources and, if they wish, helping them access those resources.
  4. The camp is “tagged” for cleanup, which is formal notice to vacate and remove personal property within a specific amount of time, typically at least 24 hours for City Parks and usually 5-7 days for other City property or right of ways.
  5. The camp is scheduled for cleanup to remove any property or debris left behind. Personal property left at the camp is placed in storage at Bellingham Police Department for recovery by the owner.  Storage is provided for the security of individuals’ belongings, which can be retrieved by calling (360) 778-8850.
  6. The camp is cleaned.

Frequently Asked Questions

The City is currently following established procedures for reporting and monitoring camps during COVID-19, using guidance from the Governor’s Office, state Attorney General and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to carefully evaluate which camps to clean up and taking action on fewer camps overall during the pandemic. This is consistent with CDC guidance to leave in place small encampments that display less serious health and safety risks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As also recommended by the CDC and local health officials, camps with serious public health and safety hazards will be cleaned up, using our established processes. This includes camps that are growing and attracting more people, have extensive refuse, vermin and other public health concerns, have reports of violence, drug use and other illegal activities in the area, and/or lack COVID-19 precautions.

Removal of camps in City parks and on City rights of way is a priority, to help protect public health and safety and retain full access to public properties. Clean up of abandoned camps continues during the pandemic.

During times of limited or no shelter availability, the City follows established procedures for reporting and monitoring camps, continues cleanup of abandoned camps, and continues limited camp removal only in certain circumstances, including: serious public health and safety concerns, locations where public construction projects are underway and need to move forward, and/or where damage is being done to environmentally sensitive areas. Decisions to move forward with cleanups during times of limited shelter availability are made on a case-by-case basis after consultation between Bellingham Police, the City Attorney’s Office, and the Mayor’s Office. Normal camp cleanup operations resume when shelter becomes available.

Property that can be attributed to a specific person or appears valuable is placed in storage by the Police Department for up to 60 days. Property that is not valuable or attributed to a specific person is considered abandoned by the former occupants and will be discarded. Stored items can be retrieved by calling (360) 778-8850.

There are typically at least 200 reports of active and abandoned homeless camps in the online reporting queue at any one time. Complaints are prioritized based on their location, public health and safety hazards, and other factors, then resources coordinated for outreach, notification and cleanup of those camps scheduled for action.

Property owners are responsible for cleanup of camps on private property and sometimes owners are unable to schedule clean up immediately.

Two Police officers respond with the cleanup crew to help protect the safety of all involved, to ensure that any occupants of the encampment have vacated, and to issue trespass warnings if they do not leave.

Police respond to more than 70,000 calls for service via 911 each year. Our 911 and patrol officer resources are better focused on emergencies. Homeless camps are not considered emergencies unless crimes or public safety incidents are occurring. If you see a crime or public safety incident, please call 911.

Contacts

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