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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bellingham City Council Passes “Protection Zone”

City council sitting around a table. From a stock photo 5/31/2020
An illustration of City council. // Illustration by Rachel Alexander

By Courtney Gullett

The protection zone will be centered around the base camp at the Lighthouse Mission. 

The Bellingham City Council passed an ordinance during their Monday night meeting to create a shelter protection area around the base camp run by Lighthouse Mission Ministries. 

The motion passed Sep. 28 with a 6-0 vote—Councilmember Daniel Hammill was excused from voting. 

The protection zone was requested by Lighthouse Mission Ministries to help combat increased loitering. In this area, congregating and parking is not allowed. Residents who sleep in their car, lie down or sit in the area may be fined $250, Councilmember Hannah Stone said. 

Executive Director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries Hans Erchinger-Davis said the protection zone was requested for the safety of their residents. 

“We have had other locations in the past where there are people who are not using our services who are hanging around the outside and basically being predators to the people that are coming in,” Erchinger-Davis said. “It’s really for the protection of our guests and the most compassionate thing that can be done.” 

The protection zone will cover one block around Lighthouse Mission Ministries base camp. This block includes sections of Cornwall and Railroad avenues, as well as York and East Champion streets. 

Councilmember Michael Lilliquist noted during the meeting that the ordinance’s intentions are to protect homeless people.

“We spent money to remodel a facility to make it available,” Lilliquist said. “In particular so that during times of [COVID-19], people would have adequate space and in this case more shower facilities, more storage facilities and more outdoor recreational leisure facilities.”

The Lighthouse Mission, located at 1530 Cornwall Ave., is the site of one of Bellingham’s largest homeless shelters. The shelter provides housing, food and showers to over 200 homeless Bellingham residents, Lilliquist said.

The Lighthouse Mission moved to this location from Bellingham High School in July. The organization plans to stay at this location for three to four years while a new center is constructed, according to The Lighthouse Mission’s website

The Lighthouse Mission is a christian organization. The group’s mission statement is, “to be a consistent friend to those in homelessness that they become God-dependent healthy members of society, with such impact that our community points to Jesus Christ,” according to The Lighthouse Mission’s website.

Bellingham’s downtown Central Business District already has a no-sit, no lying down rule

The protection zone will cover one block around Lighthouse Mission Ministries base camp. This block includes sections of Cornwall and Railroad avenues, as well as York and East Champion streets. 

Councilmember Michael Lilliquist noted during the meeting that the ordinance’s intentions are to protect homeless people.

“We spent money to remodel a facility to make it available,” Lilliquist said. “In particular so that during times of [COVID-19], people would have adequate space and in this case more shower facilities, more storage facilities and more outdoor recreational leisure facilities.”

The Lighthouse Mission, located at 1530 Cornwall Ave., is the site of one of Bellingham’s largest homeless shelters. The shelter provides housing, food and showers to over 200 homeless Bellingham residents, Lilliquist said.

The Lighthouse Mission moved to this location from Bellingham High School in July. The organization plans to stay at this location for three to four years while a new center is constructed, according to The Lighthouse Mission’s website

The Lighthouse Mission is a Christian organization. The group’s mission statement is, “to be a consistent friend to those in homelessness that they become God-dependent healthy members of society, with such impact that our community points to Jesus Christ,” according to The Lighthouse Mission’s website.

Bellingham’s downtown Central Business District already has a no-sit, no lying down rule from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Lighthouse Mission protection zone will be in effect 24 hours. 

Bellingham resident William Atherly walks by The Lighthouse Mission regularly. Atherly said he has noticed the increased congregation in the streets around the base camp. 

“I see people sitting outside, but I don’t think they are hanging out,” Athlerly said. “People need a space to feel safe. Creating a so-called ‘protection zone’ around this area feels like an attack on an area many found to be safe.” 

Planning and Community Development Department Director Rick Sepler said there are other benches and areas to park in the area, and presented a map of sitting areas nearby.

 “Nothing that is proposed prevents people from gathering and talking, and walking to and fro,” Sepler said. “We are really focusing on those activities that are occurring, and primarily after hours, after the doors are closed on base camp.” 




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