By Izzie Lund
The Bellingham City Council will vote on Monday, Feb. 10, whether or not to pass new interim housing regulations that will make it easier to establish more homeless shelters.
Interim housing is a building, or other permanent structure, that accommodates homeless people overnight, Lisa Poole, senior planner for the Planning and Community Development Commission, said during the Jan. 27 meeting. She said that Northwest Youth Services and Lydia Place are both examples of interim housing.
Bridget Reeves, executive director at the Lighthouse Mission, said that new shelters would put less pressure on existing ones.
“Just last night [Jan. 26] alone, there were 144 people who slept at our drop-in center program,” Reeves said. “That is 25 more people last night than there were a year ago at the same night at the drop-in center and so we need more of these facilities.”
It is hard for the homeless community to find permanent housing quickly because there is not a lot of available housing, said Davilynn Fischer, office manager for the YWCA, a nonprofit organization that provides housing for women.
“We have so much pressure on us from so many people because there is such a great need for housing,” Fischer said. “We have 36 rooms and we are almost always at maximum capacity.”
The plan does the crucial job of balancing the needs of the homeless community and concerns from surrounding neighborhoods, Reeves said.
“I want to encourage a timely vote of approval on this [from the City Council],” Reeves said. “I think that [the regulations are] so needed in our community.”
Interim housing is not currently defined under the city’s municipal code, said Rick Sepler, Planning and Community Development director.
Sepler went on to say that the new regulations would give interim housing a clear definition and process, which will make it easier for people to apply for a permit to operate a homeless shelter.
The process for creating the new regulations started in 2018, Poole said. She said that the Planning Commission had a public hearing before making their final recommendations, which were sent to the City Council.
The Feb. 10 City Council meeting will be the third and final time the City Council will vote on the issue, Poole said. If passed, the regulations will take effect Feb. 25.
The City Council voted unanimously to pass the regulations on Jan. 27.
According to Poole, anyone applying to operate a homeless shelter would have to provide an operations plan, which includes the roles of staff, outreach with surrounding property owners and a drug and alcohol free policy.
Children would not be allowed in these shelters unless accompanied by a parent or if the managing agency had a license to work with them, Poole said.
The new regulations would set up the permitting process so that the smaller, less demanding shelters could be located in more areas than larger shelters, she said.
The YWCA, Lighthouse Mission and HomesNow! have said the new regulations would help them.