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Friday, May 14, 2021

Councilmember discusses housing, sanctuary status at Alternative Library meeting

Housing concerns, community cohesion and the City Council ordinance to make Bellingham a sanctuary city were among topics covered in a meeting between Councilmember April Barker and the public. Hosted by the Western Local Issues Team Tuesday, Feb. 14, the meeting caused mixed responses from attendees.

The Bellingham City Council passed an ordinance Monday, Feb. 13 to make Bellingham a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, a decision with mixed community response. Bellingham will act as a sanctuary city, but is not officially named one.

The Blue Group, an undocumented student group at Western, didn’t want the ordinance passed, freshman Joshua Shepard said.

“What happened last night is that it was passed, which was a betrayal by the folks on the council,” Shepard said. “A lot of what was said here tonight regarding that ordinance was justifications, I found it frustrating.”

The Blue Group proposed their ideal sanctuary ordinance to the City Council, which did not match the ordinance passed by the council that same evening.  Council Member Barker voted in favor of the ordinance, a decision that led some people, like Shepard, to attend the public meeting with her.


“I was kind of disappointed [in the meeting with Council Member Barker].  I’m in solidarity with the undocumented community here, and what they wanted was to have the motion tabled until a better version could be written,” Shepard said.

Others, like event coordinator Galen Herz, felt that the meeting was successful in its intentions.

“It was excellent,” said Herz.  “April is a very thoughtful and honest City Council Member, and students were able to ask her a ton of questions on important issues in the community.”

The group that coordinated the event, the Local Issues Team, is intended to amplify student voices in Bellingham’s governance to make the city more affordable and welcoming, Herz said.  That is, in part, why housing concerns were a predominant topic of discussion.

Council Member Barker acknowledged the lack of available and affordable housing in Bellingham and identified herself as a proponent for fixing the issue while on the Bellingham City Council.

Aside from specific political and social issues facing the Bellingham community, Barker offered her advice on how to collectively organize and effectively move forward with pressing issues.

“We have to go slow to go fast,” said Barker.  “The problem is we all want to go really fast on these issues but we haven’t built the relationships.   It’ll seem really slow, but then we’ll be able to move so much faster.”

While Bellingham, to many, appears to be a politically progressive place, Barker said  different communities and people are intentionally separating themselves.

“There are people who’ve had a very different experience in Bellingham than the traditional white, middle-class persona that’s been here,” Barker said.  “If we refuse to engage and to talk to each other, it’s [relationship building] never going to happen.”


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