Community

Peace Out

Camp out for the homeless

Attend

What: City Hall Peace Out

When: Sat., Jun. 3 -5

Where: Bellingham City Hall

Cost: Free

Info: See the documentary series at http://www.whatcomhsc.org/homeless-in-
bellingham-
film-project/

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Laura Rawes has a passionately felt message for all of us: “Please, come together as a community. If we show up and take a stand with each other; if we live together in community, then we are a community and will be a community. Let’s come together as team, be a family, be peaceful and hang out in a positive way.”

With the help of Homeless Voices, a subcommittee of the Whatcom Coalition on Ending Homelessness, Rawes has worked with the city to obtain permission for a big campout on the Bellingham City Hall and Library lawns from 12pm Sat., June 3 until later afternoon Mon., June 5.  Billed as the second annual City Hall Peace Out, this event is for everyone; the currently homeless, the formerly homeless and especially for those of us who have homes.

Rawes had been recently housed when she took the initiative in May of 2016 to contact the City and conduct the first annual City Hall Peace Out.  She did this to give a face to all her friends who were still outside (and continue to be).

She knows their challenges, she lived them as well—being afraid to leave her tent or possessions lest they be taken, compounding health problems exacerbated by being outside, constantly worrying about feeling safe, living on the defensive, wondering how people would treat her—if they even deigned to “see” her.

“Talk to me/us as a person,” Rawes implores. “We are people, just like you. Look at yourself and decide how you want to be treated and then treat everyone else like that.”

The number of people who are chronically homeless in the United States is shocking, and Bellingham is not alone in facing this crisis. According to a recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than half a million people were living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing during a one-night national survey last January. Of that number, half were people in families. One-quarter of the entire group were children.

“While people experiencing chronic homelessness make up a small number of the overall homeless population, they are among the most vulnerable,” the NAEH report explains. “Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or an individual who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.”

The causes are complex, behavioral health issues factor large, but there is a direct correlation between the costs of housing, the increase of those costs relative to a living wage, and an increase in the rate of homelessness. A study published in the Journal of Urban Affairs found that an increase of $100 in median rent corresponded to a 15 percent increase in the homeless population. Rapid population growth and low vacancy rates contribute to a problem of housing security.

“At any point in time, at least 719 people in Whatcom County are homeless,” the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness note in their most recent annual report. “Throughout the year, hundreds more face the prospect of losing their homes due to economic reasons, family break up, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. People being released from psychiatric hospitalization and incarceration face challenging community reentry 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 in a very tight rental market where vacancy rates hovered around 1 percent.”

Last year, about 75 homeless or formerly homeless families and individuals camped out with Rawes—she under her tarp—for two nights. Rawes called Frederick Dent, who co-produced the Homeless in Bellingham Film Series with Lisa Spicer, and asked him to capture some of the event on film.

Laura has a vision for this year’s event. She wants to fill both lawns with tents and people. She asks that even if you can’t stay for the whole event and need to work on Monday that you pitch a tent for the duration to stake your presence and caring in a visible way. She wants a large crowd for the reasons already stated, but especially, she says, “I want the officials inside the buildings to look out their windows and realize that people actually want to do something about homelessness.”

Rawes wants people to come together to build the political will towards action; not just thinking and talking, but action.

Come, pitch a tent and stay for one or two nights. Bring your family, your kids, your friends, your mother, your pets. Bring an instrument. Come, with food to share, blankets to sit on.

The Homeless Voices sub-committee will invite attendees to gather by the City Hall steps periodically to hear from the Committee.

Rawes especially hopes there is a presence on Mon., June 5 as City Council members arrive for their regular meeting. Among topics they will address are income discrimination and affordable housing. The mayor may come out to speak to participants. Rawes plans to make a public comment on housing and homelessness during the Council’s evening session.

Vanessa Blackburn, communications director for the mayor’s office, advised that the city does not have an official role in the event, but is providing portable toilets. The mayor supports drawing awareness to issues around homelessness, services and affordable housing and she plans to visit those attending the event on Monday, Blackburn said.

This is an invitation from our neighbors who have experienced homelessness or are currently homeless. They have secured space so they can invite us into their “homes.” This is an opportunity to be together and come to know each other as the people we are.

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