The Port of Bellingham might buy 1 acre on Roeder Avenue where the City of Bellingham wants to put a low-barrier shelter for 200 men and women.
In March, opponents of the city’s proposal asked the port’s Board of Commissioners to buy the parcel to prevent the shelter from going into that location. They said those who are homeless should be helped, but not in that location. They feared that harm would be done to area businesses and waterfront redevelopment efforts.
The matter goes before port commissioners on Tuesday.
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Commissioner Dan Robbins said he hasn’t made up his mind on how he’ll vote, but expressed concerns about the city’s proposal.
“I just don’t get where a homeless shelter needs to be on waterfront property. That in itself is perplexing to me,” said Robbins, the board president. “I’ve got more questions than answers, but we’re going to have to make a decision here soon.”
The city owns the Roeder Avenue property after a 2012 land swap with the Port of Bellingham. But the port kept the option to buy the site in case the city decided to allow something there other than marine trades, according to Robbins.
“We’ve only got very little property where we can have marine trades,” he said.
Hoping to convince the port to give up its option to buy the property, the city is offering $300,000 and other incentives.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and city staff have been searching for more than a year to find the right location – away from residential neighborhoods and retail business districts and preferably in an industrial area – for such a shelter, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer people a place to stay and sleep instead of the city’s streets, doorways and parks.
The shelter would be a collaboration with Lighthouse Mission Ministries, which would raise $1.5 million to renovate the largest building on the site to turn it into a shelter and to pay for operations. The city would provide $180,000 a year to support emergency night shelter services.
City officials have said the waterfront property is the only feasible location and want the port to relinquish its option to buy the parcel so the shelter project can move forward.
The property is now leased to five businesses that have 15 employees. The affected businesses would have through May 2018 to find new homes, with help from the city and the port.
The proposed emergency shelter is part of the city’s effort to provide short-term help for a growing number of people who are homeless, a trend that is occurring throughout Western Washington and others parts of the West Coast.
Low-barrier shelters – also known as easy-access shelters – have minimum requirements for entry, so people aren’t tested for drug or alcohol use before being allowed in, although they can’t drink or use drugs once inside. Fighting isn’t allowed either.
The goal is to get people through the door, give staff a chance to connect with them, and build trust so those who are homeless are willing to get services.
As for Robbins’ concerns, they included that the proposed location would allow Lighthouse Mission to spread from its existing cluster on West Holly Street, the uncertainty the shelter could help reduce homelessness since its use would be voluntary, and taking up space in another part of the waterfront for the five businesses that would have to be moved – space that could be leased to others – after already giving up 1 acre of waterfront.
He also believed the city-owned old Sash & Door property in the 600 block of West Holly Street along Whatcom Creek would be a better location.
“The mayor’s trying to solve a problem,” Robbins said, then added: “You have to remember that ports were made for job creation and retention, and transportation needs of the community.”
The Port of Bellingham Board of Commissioners will meet 4 p.m. Tuesday in the conference room at the Harbor Center Building, 1801 Roeder Ave. in Bellingham.