About 20 to 30 people camped in tents outside Bellingham City Hall over the weekend to emphasize the issues surrounding homelessness in Whatcom County.
Their second annual “Peace Out” was expected to draw even more participants overnight Sunday, said organizer Laura Rawes. Their goal is to address the Bellingham City Council when it meets Monday, Rawes added.
Rawes said she hopes their presence at City Hall will show people who have homes how easy it is to lose everything and end up on the streets.
The city issued the group a permit and provided portable toilets.
There’s a stigma about being homeless, but homelessness is not contagious.
“We’re trying to get our voice on the table and get those facts out and get the community involved,” Rawes said. “People can make a difference and they want to make a difference.”
Rawes has a place to live now, but she has experienced homelessness in the past, she said.
Dondi Clemens described how a divorce and a medical issue that led to disability cost her her home and her job, leaving her on the streets with three children.
“I’d worked so hard to have security and it was all gone overnight. There’s a stigma about being homeless, but homelessness is not contagious,” she said. It just takes a little bit of bad luck and then “your life goes sideways.”
Clemens also has a place to live, but she was participating in the camp out to support parents who are struggling to provide for their families.
Hill Cummings said he was at the event to provide emotional support and mediation in case confrontations arose. Many people are homeless because of addiction or mental illness, he said. Others can’t find housing because landlords don’t want to rent to people with criminal records or to those who rely on government-backed Section 8 housing vouchers.
Several participants asked not to photographed for this story.
Michael Zick described how he waited for months to get a Section 8 voucher but can’t find an apartment because of his run-ins with police. Such vouchers must be used within 90 days or they expire and the recipient must wait for a new voucher, a process that sometimes takes years.
In Bellingham’s tight housing and rental market, landlords can afford to be discriminating, he said.
“There’s literally not a single apartment to rent (for Section 8),” Cummings said.