The longstanding encampment of recreational vehicles along Cornwall Avenue, by Bellingham’s waterfront, is gone.
City officials made sure all vehicles were off the avenue, between Laurel and Pine streets, by sometime last week, Bellingham police Lt. Claudia Murphy said. On Monday afternoon, Aug. 28, a street-cleaning vehicle was moving slowly along the curb on the southbound side of Cornwall, cleaning an area once occupied by more than a dozen RVs and other vehicles occupied by homeless people.
Construction of bicycle lanes along both sides of Cornwall Avenue will begin sometime in September, according to a joint statement by Murphy and Public Works Director Eric Johnston.
Murphy rejected the notion that the homeless people along Cornwall were moved suddenly, calling it a 20-month process that began in November 2021, when the city reintroduced parking enforcement that had been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Persons living in vehicles were contacted many times and offered services, provided information on citywide parking rules and other forms of support,” the joint statement said. “Multiple warnings and opportunities were provided to move vehicles that were in violation of parking or other regulations. Most vehicles were moved by the person who currently occupied them.”
The city incrementally replaced eight-hour parking signs with “no parking any time” signs on the east or northbound side of Cornwall first, clearing that side of the street.
“We then moved to the west side of the street, moving north in the same manner, replacing signs as folks moved or were towed,” the statement said.
City officials couldn’t immediately say how many vehicles were towed to clear this section of Cornwall Avenue. Also, officials provided no information on where the vehicles or their occupants went.
In interviews in October 2022, after council had approved the bike lanes for Cornwall, people living in their vehicles along that street said they didn’t know where they would go.
Towing a vehicle would amount to taking away a person’s home, Thomas Cline said at the time. He had been living in his vehicle on Cornwall.
“Where are you supposed to go when you’re homeless?” he said.
Currently, city leaders are considering a proposal that would ban RV parking near schools, playgrounds, recreational facilities, public parks, libraries and public transit centers, among other locations.
The proposal, which may come back to the Bellingham City Council in the coming weeks, was spurred by complaints from residents and employees at local youth centers who were concerned about “poor behaviors,” Mayor Seth Fleetwood said during an Aug. 14 city council meeting.
The mayor hoped to offset the stricter parking regulations with a safe-parking program that would create a managed space for individuals who reside in vehicles — not just RVs — without risk of being towed.
However, no one met the city’s Aug. 16 deadline to submit a proposal for managing the safe-parking program, Fleetwood said Thursday, Aug. 31.
“We continue to seek experienced ‘safe parking’ operators as well as viable locations for this service, both publicly and privately owned,” Fleetwood said.
Opportunity Council, a Bellingham nonprofit, said its Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) was not involved in relocating the vehicle occupants along Cornwall.
“However, HOT is well acquainted with the folks who were there and conducted outreach activity there regularly,” said Teri Bryant, director of Opportunity Council’s Homeless Service Center. “Provided those folks have not left our community, I am confident that HOT will find them (if they haven’t already) and continue to engage them.”
The bike lanes on Cornwall are intended to connect downtown Bellingham and the waterfront to a future park at Cornwall Beach. The construction contract for the work includes a similar project that adds bike lanes and removes parking along Eldridge Avenue, plus the addition of crosswalks with flashing lights at 18 locations around the city.
This story was updated at 1:06 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 with quotes from people experiencing homelessness and additional information from the Bellingham mayor’s office.