As we approach the longest night of the year on Dec. 21 we have special cause to be mindful and honor our neighbors whose lives have been cut short due to homelessness. Sadly, many who die are alone and their deaths may go without a memorial or any marking of their passing. We have an opportunity to change this in our community and honor the life stories of people like David Ireland.
Three weeks ago, on a very cold weekend, David died under a porch near Sehome Village. He was a well-known figure around the Sehome neighborhood, but few knew his story.
People who drove by him daily, did not know David was an artist, musician and poet. Most didn’t know he attended college, served in the Navy, and had a family. Those who did know David, knew he was kind and giving and well-loved by those close to him.
Theresa Meurs, of Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team, often talked with David as she patiently encouraged him to enroll in a new housing program. According to Theresa, “He was protective of people he considered more in need than himself, and he would say, ‘Make sure she gets that housing before me. She needs it more than I do.’”
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Meet us tomorrow on the steps of City Hall at 210 Lottie St. at 5 p.m. for a memorial service to honor the lives and memories of those who passed away this year who experienced homelessness.
After nearly a year of Theresa’s encouragement, David finally agreed to take the first step toward signing up for a housing program. Tragically, he died within days of that conversation. His memorial service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church was attended by over 70 people.
David was only 68 when he died. Many people who experience homelessness fall victim to lives cut short.
Our community is blessed with many organizations, faith communities, volunteers, elected officials, supportive local government and landlords who provide life-saving housing and services to people who are chronically homeless. These programs have made a huge difference.
Still, it’s not enough. After years of progress reducing homelessness, it’s now back on the rise. Not just in Whatcom County, but in nearly every county in the state.
As we take time to remember David and others who have died too early, let’s also commit to redouble our efforts to end chronic homelessness. Here’s how you can help:
Call your state legislators. Tell them housing is the solution to homelessness, and urge them to maximize our state’s investment in the Washington State Housing Trust Fund. It will help stretch our local housing program funding to create more affordable, supportive housing units. We simply need more units of housing that are reserved for people who are highly vulnerable and unsheltered.
If you are a landlord, consider offering a small percentage of your modest apartments to our cause. Our local housing market is extremely tight. There are very few apartments for rent and prices are rising rapidly. That makes it very difficult for people who have experienced homelessness to find a place to rent, even when they have intensive support staff to help them. We need landlords who will step up to join us in this effort.
Support the Bellingham Home Fund now and in the future. Bellingham voters strongly supported the creation of the Bellingham Home Fund, a precious resource that is creating housing and the needed housing support services to reduce chronic homelessness. Commit to support that program now — and when it’s time to renew it in a few years.
Make a significant investment in new supportive housing projects. If you’re looking to make a philanthropic investment that will help reduce chronic homelessness, the good news is that there are plenty of projects in the works that need your help – a great way to leave a legacy!
Host a screening of one of our Homeless in Bellingham video series episodes at your neighborhood association, house of worship, or civic group meeting. We can send a panel of speakers to lead the discussion and answer questions.
And something that anyone can do: treat people who are homeless with respect. They are our neighbors who are often ignored or treated very poorly. Believe it or not, just making eye contact and offering a smile can make a positive difference in their day.
Finally, join us Dec. 21 for our community’s Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service. Many of our neighbors who die every year out in the elements have no family, no one they are survived by, no one to tell their story and honor their lives. We have an opportunity to change that this year.
Meet us tomorrow on the steps of City Hall at 210 Lottie St. at 5 p.m. for a memorial service to honor the lives and memories of those who passed away this year who experienced homelessness. As a community, we have seen that housing all who are unsheltered is a challenge, but it is an achievable one. We must also keep in our minds and hearts that housing is a human right.
Being remembered is also a right. We owe that to David – and all of our neighbors who have had to live outside and unsheltered.