Mayor's group makes recommendations for curbing problems in downtown Bellingham

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 28, 2014 

  • READ THE REPORT

    Click here to find a copy of the Community Solutions Workgroup's recommendations for health and safety in downtown Bellingham. Or contact Vanessa Blackburn at vablackburn@cob.org to have her email you the report, or to share your thoughts about the recommendations.

    Blackburn is the community outreach coordinator in the mayor's office.

BELLINGHAM - A 24-hour drop-in center for youths, more activities at Maritime Heritage Park, a mental health court, and some restrictions on alcohol sales were among the recommendations made by an advisory group to improve health and safety in downtown Bellingham.

Mayor Kelli Linville convened the group to look at downtown concerns - including crime, homelessness and public drunkenness - and to propose solutions.

"They're deep issues. None of these things is simple," said Vanessa Blackburn, community outreach coordinator in the mayor's office, in an interview.

The 14 recommendations came from the Community Solutions Workgroup, which included city representatives, the state Liquor Control Board, the county Health Department, business and property owners, and social service groups.

Blackburn talked about the group and its recommendations during the monthly meeting of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership on Wednesday, March 26.

The meeting included a presentation by social service and church groups that talked about the services they're providing to the homeless.

"I hopefully will demonstrate to you that we can end homelessness," said Greg Winter, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center.

The meeting also included a showing of the first episode of a new video series called "Homeless in Bellingham," which is meant to highlight the individual struggles and lives of homeless people.

As for the downtown: "We have an amazing downtown. We have an amazing community," Blackburn said to those at the meeting.

But there are challenges, she said, and multiple approaches will be needed for the complex issues.

Some of the solutions already are being worked on; others will require additional steps from the city, including the City Council and the Planning Commission.

Additional recommendations included creating more low-income housing citywide with support services, increasing police presence in the downtown at certain times, and implementing a 24-hour mobile crisis response system to help those struggling with mental illness.

As for the 24-hour drop-in center for youths in Bellingham, that could be used to help plug young homeless adults into housing and vocational/education programs - providing them with services outside the traditional weekday work schedule, according to the group's recommendations.

Meanwhile, a mental health court would address the needs of mentally ill offenders who commit misdemeanors. The idea is to protect the public and save public dollars by providing treatment to mentally ill offenders. It has the support of city and county officials.

Getting more performers at Maritime Heritage Park is part of a plan to respond to citizens who say they avoid the park because they feel unsafe there. Other efforts to get more people to the park would include adding enforcement and increasing the presence of social service providers, putting in a playground, increasing lighting and installing security cameras and call boxes.

To address problems with public drunkenness and alcohol-related crime, the group suggested having the City Council create an alcohol impact area. Such areas are allowed by the state liquor board. Businesses inside such an area would have a six-month period of voluntary compliance in which stores, for example, could be asked to stop selling cheap drinks that have high alcohol content.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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