The Gristle

The Last, Best Solution

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THE LAST, BEST SOLUTION: Sharper pencils, more penetrating analysis appears to have returned results in the City of Bellingham’s search for the location for an easy-access night shelter for those experiencing homelessness. Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff have been working with community partners including the the Lighthouse Mission Ministries, which has been operating an interim easy-access shelter in Old Town since last October, to identify a location for a long-term shelter that operates with services 24-hours-per day, seven-days-per-week, year-round for up to 200 people.

The search for a shelter location has become an obsession for COB as a collision of forces have increased the presence of homeless individuals downtown. On one side of the social justice scale, these forces include new awareness that these people don’t belong in jail, aren’t served by jail, and increase the crowding in jail; on the other side of the social justice scale, forces include soaring rents, vanishing vacancy rates, stagnant wages and insecure employment that make clear the distance between Us the Housed versus Them the Unhoused is small and perilous.

A proposal to site the shelter on city property near the old Colony Wharf facility on the central waterfront evaporated in May after Port of Bellingham commissioners exercised their option to purchase the property to secure the integrity of their nascent marine trades center. In doing so, commissioners rejected the city’s partnership offer of $300,000 in capital contribution and marine trade investments; additionally, the agency paid an estimated $780,000 to purchase the property, for a total of more than $1 million in lost opportunity costs. The news last week that the port had spent another $500,000 on a project to replace the decayed roof on a warehouse at their adjacent Bellingham Shipping Terminal for an as-yet-undetermined new tenant therefore arrived on a flat note.

City officials meanwhile were out of their easiest options but not entirely out of all their options, and assembled a set of criteria for a shelter for the city’s hardest hard-luck homeless population. Five locations were studied and ranked for their general fitness. The results of the study and staff recommendations will be presented to Bellingham City Council later this month.

One potential site is near the Lighthouse Mission, which assists that organization in providing services and management to the shelter. The site presents the corollary drawback of concentrating—in tandem with other Mission operations—a great deal of the homeless population in a very small area in Old Town.

Another property would require partnership with Whatcom County, but would be strategically central to government services—including police and fire service medics—while not being central to the downtown commercial business district. It is within walking distance of Lighthouse Mission without being at its doorstep.

Unlike the Colony Wharf site, none of the options offer a ready-made building for retrofit into a shelter, which will increase the public cost, perhaps doubling the initial estimate; but likely the new proposed sites offer a better fit than squeezing the homeless into the center of marine heavy industries.

Ultimately, the last, best solution to homelessness is homes.

“Homelessness is a crisis experienced by communities across Washington, including Bellingham,” Linville wrote to the governor in January, requesting a state of emergency on an issue pummeling communities around the state. The declaration could free up state and federal funds to help address the problem.

“In our community, the 2015 Point in Time Count found at least 651 people in Whatcom County who were homeless,” Linville noted. “Throughout the year, hundreds more face the prospect of losing their homes due to economic reasons, family breakup, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. People being released from psychiatric hospitalization and incarceration face challenging community re-entry issues. Furthermore, the rising cost of housing and stagnant wages increases the risk of people losing their housing and makes it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing. Even though our community has found some success since 2008, when we began implementing our 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, our numbers increased by 17.7 percent between 2014 and 2015. This trend has been reflected across the state, with an increase of 13 percent in unsheltered homelessness statewide over the previous year.”

The Opportunity Council—a local non-profit community agency serving low-income families—presented information to City Council this week on issues related to subsidized housing. In their presentation, the agency also presented data on homelessness.

Small wonder.

The link is iron between costs of housing and the incidence of homelessness. Models in the Pacific Northwest market suggest a 5 percent increase in rents could add as many as 250 people to the homeless population—an estimated 6 to 32 percent increase in homelessness for every $100 rent increase.

For a town with more than half its households as renters, it’s a very real concern for Bellingham. The average wage of renters is less than $12 per hour. As of June 2017 the average one-bedroom rent is $832, and $1,350 for a two-bedroom dwelling space in Bellingham. Affordability models suggest the appropriate rent for Bellingham’s average wage should be more on the order of $615 per month for a single-bedroom apartment. For those on fixed incomes, the imbalance is even more dire. In the past six months, one-bedroom rents have increased on average by $151 (9.9 percent) and two-bedroom rents by $385 (18.1 percent).

It’s a fragment—a pointed and razor-edged fragment—of the much larger existential crisis for a city that once prided itself on affordability, and the diversity of culture and lifestyles that implies. Can public initiative file down its edges? We’re about to find out.

ICU Roof #2
Past Columns
A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017


June 21, 2017

An Existential Triangle

June 14, 2017

Divided Decisions

June 7, 2017

Book Group Mixers

5:30pm|Village Books

Bringing history into sharp focus


Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

U.S. Citizenship Class

6:00pm|Lynden Library

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Summer Bike Stories

7:00pm|Cafe Velo

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Grand Opening and Open House

11:00am|Social Fabric

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Clean Eating

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Art Night

5:00pm|SpringHill Suites by Marriott

12 Minutes Max Auditions

5:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Amber Sky CD Release Party

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre


7:00pm|Village Books

USA Dance


Thriller Dance Class

7:00pm|Moles Farewell Tributes

Halloween Movie Night

7:00pm|BHS Performing Arts Center

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Holding the Light

8:00pm|Honey Moon

Village Books Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Terrell Creek

Scarecrow Stuffing Contest

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Landscape stewards work party

9:00am|Chuckanut Center

Pumpkins 4 Pajamas

9:00am|Lakeway Fred Meyer

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Pumpkin Patch on Rails

9:00am|Wickersham Station

Port race ponders a wasted waterfront


Everyday Superheroes 5K

10:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Blaine Oktoberfest


Community Cider Pressing

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Enlightened Caterpillar

10:30am|Village Books

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Crown Jewel Wilderness

11:00am|Western Washington University Bookstore

Mushrooms gone wild


Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Conquering Writer's BLock

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Winter Birds of Whatcom County

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Undersea Bubble Fantasia

2:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Brew on the Slough

5:00pm|Maple Hall

Community Library Celebration

5:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Seeds of Change

6:30pm|Edison Granary

The Great Unconformity

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Symphony's Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Original Comedy Night

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Bellingham Farmer’s Market CWWarrenMiller Village Books Trove Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble