Housing

Bellingham council approves expanded shelter protection zone

Councilors balance needs of homeless people, neighbors
June 7, 2022 at 1:01 p.m.
A protection zone for Lighthouse Mission Ministries' proposed 300-bed shelter includes the residential area along H Street. The shelter would be built at the site of the existing Lighthouse Mission facility, viewed from H Street in this May 27 photo.
A protection zone for Lighthouse Mission Ministries' proposed 300-bed shelter includes the residential area along H Street. The shelter would be built at the site of the existing Lighthouse Mission facility, viewed from H Street in this May 27 photo. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

By RALPH SCHWARTZ
Staff Reporter

Bellingham City Council doubled the size of a proposed protection zone for a 300-bed shelter Lighthouse Mission Ministries wants to build at Holly and F streets. In deliberations, council members walked a tightrope between protecting shelter residents — the zone’s true purpose — and appeasing neighbors who say their lives have been disrupted by homeless people in the area.

The council approved a zone comprising 20 square blocks after city staff had proposed a nine-block area immediately surrounding the site at 910 W. Holly St. The expanded zone would extend from H Street to C Street, and from Roeder Avenue to Clinton Street.

Rules governing parking, and sitting or lying in public rights of way, are stricter in the zone than they are citywide. In effect, Lighthouse Mission staff or Bellingham police can ask — or require — homeless people to leave the area.

In comments to the City Council, some Lettered Streets residents said the zone needed to be even larger. Alison Gallant suggested a half-mile-long protection area to include Whatcom Middle School.

“The ordinance as it stands now needs to be far more robust in order to provide real security to the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the Mission,” she wrote.  

Council member Michael Lilliquist emphasized that the zone’s purpose is to protect residents of the shelter, not the neighbors.

“This is not a tool to make all the ill effects of homeless go away,” Lilliquist said. Instead, the zone is meant to keep at a safe distance other homeless people who might sell drugs to residents, or otherwise engage them in criminal activities.

Even so, some council members argued for expanding the zone to benefit neighbors.

“I do have concerns that this may not be large enough,” council member Lisa Anderson said. “We’re going to have people congregating and perhaps behaviors that are making it difficult for the residents and buildings and businesses in this area.”

Councilor Dan Hammill argued both sides of the issue: Extend the zone to C Street to eliminate the RV occupants who offer drugs to Lighthouse Mission residents, and extend it in the opposite direction to include the residences on H Street.

“I’ve heard from three people on H Street who had concerns,” Hammill said.

Don Almer, chief deputy of the Bellingham police, told the council the short-staffed department was ill-equipped to enforce the rules in an expanded zone. 

“Expansion, obviously, draws upon our limited resources to be able to respond in a timely manner,” Almer said.

The zone’s stricter parking rules would be especially challenging, Almer said. For now, at least, the department has no parking enforcement officers.

“With our triage model, that’s a low priority,” Almer said. “We’ll get to it when we can.” 

The protection zone would only go into effect once the new shelter opened its doors. The proposed facility has not yet received city approval.

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