Right now we have nearly 1,000 kids experiencing homelessness--higher than ever before, and Whatcom County’s fastest growing homeless population are senior citizens. I believe we need to be clear when we are talking about homelessness to be effective. Too often folks lump drug use disorder, behavioral health issues and criminogenic behavior with homelessness. Although there is cross over, most folks experiencing homelessness are off our radar- sleeping in cars, doubling up, or staying on couches while they get themselves out of homelessness. Lumping everything under homelessness confuses the problem and makes us less effective in our attempts to communicate what it is we are trying to solve.
I am working toward a paradigm shift- moving us from a scarcity mindset, thinking these problems are to big and expensive to tackle successfully, to a solutions oriented mindset. We are already spending a ton of money on homelessness, we just have no idea how much. No longer should we have arguments about which human is worthy of our resources. As your Mayor, I will work with other communities that have been successful in solving solving chronic, youth and veteran homelessness, build necessary partnerships and identify the resources to move us forward with evidence based solutions and measures that hold us accountable.
Concerns of homelessness and personal safety downtown.
One question I am often asked is, “How are you going to fix the homeless problem downtown? I don’t feel safe.” It’s important to identify and address the causes of such unease. I will consult with folks to determine the specific behaviors that are infringing on other people’s freedoms and develop an approach that regulates those unwanted behaviors, that responds to business owners’ concerns, and gives first responders the support they need to enforce those boundaries.
This ties in with the criminal justice reform work I have been doing as your council member for several years. When boundaries are crossed and law enforcement becomes involved, we must make sure appropriate diversions and treatment based alternatives are available so that folks can get the resources they need to rehabilitate and/or seek a new path. This includes supporting transitional housing for folks participating in specialty court diversions and treatment facilities for those who choose to get the help they need, in all of our neighborhoods. These are our neighbors, they will be returning to our community, and we need to make sure that the spaces, resources and paths are available when they are ready for help.
Getting things done.
- Seniors are Whatcom County’s fastest growing homeless population. April is working with the Caregivers Justice Project to advocate at the state level to ensure that DSHS is properly reimbursing care facilities and caregivers, and that seniors who are medically fragile are getting the care they deserve and not ending up on our streets.
- April has worked with county and state partners to make sure our triage center has the operational funding to offer increased mental health and substance use disorder treatment as alternatives to jail.
- April supports the Unity Care Board and their strategic plan to develop an urban rest stop in Bellingham where folks who are experiencing hardship can shower, get deloused, clean their clothes and sleeping bags, and get their medical needs met. This will give police officers and medics an alternative to taking folks to the emergency room and/or moving them along. An urban rest stop is a deterrent to disease and allows folks the opportunity to connect with resources.
- The Dept of Commerce reported that a $100 increase in rent is associated with an increase in homelessness of between 6 and 32 percent. April is currently working with various partners to expand permanently affordable housing options for families with young children, workers and senior citizens.
- When our neighbors and others have lost all relationships and resources, we often see them on the streets of Bellingham, struggling. April advocated for a county wide, coordinated approach to inclement weather and temporary shelter, a plan the Whatcom Health Department is currently working to develop.
- When folks experiencing homelessness also have behavior health and substance use disorder issues, they need treatment options. Sometimes, folks don’t choose those options and continue to break the laws we have in place. This may mean they ultimately are charged with a crime and may end up in jail. April has been and will continue to support diversions and alternatives to incarceration (see section below).