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City Council revisits discussion of emergency shelter options open during inclement weather

By Stella Harvey

During their regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, Bellingham City Council discussed a vote made by the Emergency Services Council to continue the severe winter weather proclamation of emergency made on Feb. 11. The proclamation allows for Whatcom County to continue their shelter at 322 N Commercial St, known as the garden room.

While the city closed their emergency shelter at 500 W Holly St. on Feb. 15, the county’s shelter remains open as of Feb. 25. According to city council member Michael Lilliquist, it is unclear when the county plans to close the temporary shelter.

County councilmember Rud Browne spoke up during the public comment period requesting the city council to open up another temporary shelter.

“We have exhausted our ability to support [the garden room]. We are heading into a new coldspell,” Browne said, “So I am respectfully requesting the city be prepared to re-open it’s facility starting tomorrow.”

Mayor Kelli Linville said due to a lack of staff and resources, she believes re-opening the city’s shelter would be almost impossible. She said the city needs to look into other options for opening a more sustainable shelter.

Bellingham resident Daniel Morbeaten also spoke during the public comment period more broadly about the issue of homelessness in Bellingham. He said as a veteran who has experienced homelessness, he has seen both sides of the issue.

“We all need to work together. [Homelessness is] a community problem, not just the city council’s. It’s all of our problem,” Morbeaten said. “I was homeless, and I’m getting sick and tired of seeing the people down there with their signs.”

According to a memorandum made by city councilmember April Barker on Monday, Feb. 25, the current emergency response criteria does not include a response for those experiencing homelessness, but rather, people who are temporarily displaced from their homes.

The memorandum proposes the city council direct Mayor Kelli Linville to work with groups across Bellingham and surrounding areas to to develop a countywide coordinated crisis response plan. The plan would be for future inclement weather events to provide shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness. The county would be the lead agency in this plan, according to the memorandum.

The city council agreed that they must continue discussing the crisis of homelessness in the community and that they must create a better approach to addressing the issue when there is a weather crisis.

“Our response to the cold-weather crisis has been imperfect, but there has been a lot of value is doing this,” Browne said. “I’ve seen these issues discussed much more than normal amongst government officials, which is a good thing. We must find a way to keep these issues at the forefront of our minds once the weather improves.”

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