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Sunday, February 28, 2021

New survey finds over half of Bellingham residents believe homelessness is biggest issue in community

Survey by Western’s Center for Economic and Business Research lists housing affordability as second biggest

A photo of Bellingham City Hall, which was home to the homeless encampment Camp 210 until Jan. 28, 2021.
Bellingham City Hall was home to the homeless encampment Camp 210 until Jan. 28, 2021. City Hall is now in the process of more housing solutions for the homeless community after the findings of the 2020 public opinion survey conducted by WWU’s Center of Economic and Business of Research. // Courtesy of Jimmy Emerson DVM via flickr

By Riley Young

A 2020 survey revealed 57% of Bellingham residents believe homelessness is a top issue facing the community.

Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research conducted a public opinion survey to measure concern trends among residents of Bellingham. This survey is a tool for City Council to use to develop policies.  

The center surveyed 1,594 Bellingham addresses at random and found 57% of Bellingham citizens ranked homelessness as a top concern for the city. 

The center also surveyed 1,206 residences across the country, such as Burlington, Vermont., to compare trends within the United States and Bellingham, Washington. 

Similar issues participants associated with homelessness included: property crimes, drug abuse, mental health and downtown safety. 

People who participated in the survey ranked housing affordability as the second most important issue and neighborhood safety as the fifth. 

James McCafferty, director of the WWU Center for Economic and Business Research, conducted the survey for the City of Bellingham and said the rate of concern for homelessness decreased by 4% from the 2018 survey. 

McCafferty added that with the decrease of the percentage, it’s still a point of anger among citizens regarding the city’s lack of action.

“Homelessness was named as the reason for a fair or poor rating when asked about the City’s efforts to prevent crime and protect the community,” McCafferty said.

With the homeless encampments more visible around the city, tensions among the City Council and citizens are high.  

At a Jan. 28 press conference, Police Chief Flo Simon said there would soon be a sweep of the new Camp 210 located at Civic Field. The city announced a plan to sweep the location on Feb. 5, but none occurred.

“We’ve heard that some of the campers have moved to a camp that was already set up there at Frank Geri Fields,” Simon said. “We will be making plans to work with those folks that have moved over there so far.”

Simon added some of the campers have moved to Base Camp, a shelter near City Hall run by the Lighthouse Mission.

According to the City of Bellingham’s website, the City Council is in the process of developing more tiny home developments. Councilmember Hannah Stone was unable to immediately comment on future plans. 

Hans Erchinger-Davis, director of the Lighthouse Mission, helps deliver services for the homeless community. 

The mission provides shelter for people experiencing homelessness as well as food, hygienic services and potential roads for recovery. Erchinger-Davis estimated roughly 2,500 people utilize their services per year.  

“We want to see generational change and have an impact for the future,” Erchinger-Davis said. “And that means transforming lives.” 

Regarding how many people came from Camp 210, Erchinger-Davis said there were a decent amount of people using their facilities and roughly 30 more people have come to stay at base camp since the Jan. 28 sweep of Camp 210.

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