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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Frontline: Proposed homeless shelter a necessity

There’s a cycle set in place by the homeless crisis we face in Bellingham; camps continue to be built and torn down.

Bellingham’s forested terrain provides an idyllic, natural shelter for the camps spread throughout town.

Homeless camps are illegal sites where temporary homes are set up. These camps pose risks of environmental impact and community safety.

On Tuesday, April 24, a camp in Whatcom Falls Park was cleared out by the Bellingham Police Department and city workers. Heaps of trash and abandoned items littered the area.

Homelessness is on the rise, and it’s not an issue that can be pushed aside.

Mayor Kelli Linville called for a recognized state of emergency for homelessness throughout Washington in January, 2016. She asked Governor Jay Inslee to pay attention to the growing problem and
address the crisis we’re in.

It can be easy to place blame on those in a situation that leads to living in a camp, but that doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t matter why or how they got there. We need to provide the resources that will break the cycle.

Linville is in favor of a proposed shelter on Roeder Avenue in the heart of  the waterfront district. The shelter would be able to house 200 people.

The Working Waterfront Coalition is against the proposal. The group is urging the Port of Bellingham to buy out the city-owned property and stop the construction of this shelter.

The coalition raised concerns about the displacement of businesses that will come from the acquisition of the property, but the city is committed to ensuring their relocation.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

The group remains adamant about the need for a solution to our homelessness problem, but believe it shouldn’t be on this property.

Where should they go, then? City resources, in the form of labor hours and financial expenditures, are constantly getting funneled into clearing out homeless camps. That money should instead be used to invest in the livelihood of those in need.

This shelter provides a possible solution to a growing problem that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The sidewalks of West Holly Street are filled with overflowed patrons of the Lighthouse Mission Ministries. Shopping carts stuffed to the brim are parked outside the tents set up in Maritime Heritage Park.

A majority of our homeless population already resides around the waterfront, even without the shelter. The proposed property is within walking distance from resources like the Mission and the Opportunity Council. This location makes sense.

Waterfront business would benefit from this shelter. It offers an organized way of housing and helping homeless people while keeping them off the street. Instead of hanging around business fronts, they’d have a place to go.

Bellingham needs this shelter. We can’t keep toying with this idea and passing it from place to place only to be denied every single time. That’s not helping anyone — not our business owners, not our community members, not our city workers and not the individuals without a home.

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