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Dropping temperatures as winter approaches provide new concerns for Bellingham’s homeless population. Whatcom County Health Department Housing Director Barbara Johnson-Vinna said the city is constantly working to help homeless individuals, but there are always obstacles. Recently, Johnson-Vinna said efforts have been concentrated toward helping more homeless people access rental units in the city. Bellingham has very low vacancy rates, making rental properties hard to come by, and in 2011 the rate sat at 1.4 percent for single-bedroom apartments.

“People are very determined to make some kind of resolution to this problem.”

Barbara Johnson-Vinna
As of January of this year, there were at least 719 homeless individuals living in Bellingham. The median age of Bellingham’s homeless population is 34, but ages range from younger than one-year old to 77-years old. About a quarter of the homeless population, around 163 people, are under the age of 18. The city has been working to enact a 10-year plan to alleviate problems facing the homeless community since it was passed in 2012, with administrators planning to assess its progress next year. “I can see that progress is steady,” Johnson-Vinna said. “People are very determined to make some kind of resolution to this problem.” A number of different organizations and groups throughout the city are dedicated to homelessness issues, with volunteer events aimed at helping the homeless occurring fairly often. The Lighthouse Mission and Whatcom County’s Homeless Outreach Team have worked toward helping Bellingham’s homeless population through the use of walk-in shelters, volunteer events during the holidays and meal-giving opportunities. Through these endeavors, these organizations meet homeless individuals at their own level and humanize them. “We’re continuously looking at new alternatives, new methods of what we can do to try to have an impact,” Johnson-Vinna said. The Lighthouse Mission will be holding a Christmas meal service event on Christmas day, and always accepts donations of clothes and blankets.


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