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Bellingham files lawsuit against owner of homeless camp near Walmart

Guns, drugs, trash pose nuisance to neighbors, records state

A City of Bellingham lawsuit seeks removal of garbage, broken-down vehicles, and illegal structures and campers from a 20-acre lot southeast of Walmart. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

The City of Bellingham is now demanding cleanup of an entrenched homeless camp near Walmart through legal action.

After more than a year asking the owner to remove the camp on wooded property, the city on Feb. 23 filed a lawsuit against Li-Ching Fang, owner of the 20-acre undeveloped lot southeast of Walmart. Unhoused people have lived at the site for at least the past eight years, according to longtime camp residents.

The lawsuit seeks a judge’s order granting the city the authority to remove an estimated 50 to 150 illegal campers on the property, while clearing the site of drug-contaminated garbage, broken-down vehicles, dozens of shopping carts and contaminated soil.

Lower Spring Creek runs north to south through the middle of the property, which is designated as an environmental critical area with wetlands, the lawsuit states. 

In addition to numerous tents visible in video taken at the site, camp residents have built more permanent structures using plywood and plastic, according to the lawsuit.

Interviewed in October 2023, camp resident Amber Skahan, then 44, told Cascadia Daily News she had lived for nearly three years in a “20-by-20 legitimate cabin” built by her fiancé, before he was shot in the camp. 

Skahan said camp trails were littered with foils used by fentanyl smokers, and the camp had enough shopping carts to construct “a ginormous mansion.”

The camp has grown large enough to disrupt business at Walmart as well as the daily lives of the residents of Tullwood Apartments, directly west of the camp.

“Theft and other property crimes have increased at the nearby Walmart,” the lawsuit stated.


Police responded to 236 calls and made 45 arrests at the encampment from June 2021 to October 2023, according to the lawsuit. During a law enforcement search on Aug. 31, 2023, officers found drugs, four guns and 13 dogs.

All of this amounts to the legal definition of a nuisance, according to city code, and officials are no longer willing to wait for the owner to clean up the property voluntarily.

A code enforcement officer mailed a letter to Fang at her Taiwan address in November 2022. Communicating through a brother-in-law, Fang was given seven days to take steps to clean up her property, but she took no action. 

A second letter, written in Mandarin and describing worsening conditions on the property, was sent to Fang on Nov. 15, 2023. Again, the property owner did not initiate a cleanup.

The case is similar to a lawsuit filed against local resident Erwin Rommel in November 2022, seeking removal of a homeless encampment on his property on Deemer Road, near the WinCo Foods store. 

That site, also linked to crime and environmental contamination, was cleaned up nearly six months after the suit was filed.

Ralph Schwartz is CDN’s local government reporter; reach him at ralphschwartz@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 107.

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