By Paul Kelly
The Stop The Sweeps campout, taking place in front of Bellingham City Hall between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4, is part of a larger national movement focused on treating the homeless with dignity. Sweeps, as they’re called, are the traditional method of addressing homelessness with forced evictions of homeless camps. The idea of this movement is to end sweeps, and create more stability in the lives of homeless.
The sleep-out, originally scheduled to end Sunday, Dec. 3, was extended an additional night so participants could attend and speak at a city council meeting Monday night.
“We need to stop the sweeps,” said former student Galen Herz, an organizer for Bellingham Tenants Union. “Rather than chasing individuals who are experiencing homelessness and camping around the city from place to place, [we need to] provide them with basic resources to camp cleanly and safely. And similarly, provide an area for people who are living out of their cars to park safely.”
Doug Gustafson and his business partner Jim Peterson run a nonprofit called Homes Now that raises funds for building tiny homes for the homeless in Bellingham. They have been asking the city for help and land to build these tiny homes since the creating of Homes Now this past June. They set up camp on the Bellingham City Hall lawn to raise awareness of the problem, and also to hand out some help to local homeless.
“Homelessness has always been a passion for me,” Peterson said. “We have to solve it, it’s the easiest thing to solve: house people.”
The simplicity of their approach is what often trips up other people. Homeless people have many stereotypes associated with them, so it can be difficult to break through those barriers when asking others to help.
“Basically, our main philosophy is that homelessness just means without a home,” Gustafson said. “You could have other problems attached to it, but other people that are housed have those problems too. Because they’re in a bad position people use that as an excuse to claim that what they’re doing is why they’re in the bad position.”