Up to 12 lockers will be built and installed this year on city property so those who are homeless have somewhere to store their belongings.
The nonprofit Basics PNW is behind the pilot project, which is called Safe Storage PNW.
The goal is "to help people be able to securely store their belongings so they can go about their day and work toward finding permanent housing," said Brittany Jones, a Safe Storage PNW coordinator.
The city of Bellingham is working with the nonprofit.
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"The mayor (Kelli Linville) is very supportive of this effort, and we are hoping they will be installed in early fall," said Vanessa Blackburn, spokeswoman for the city.
The sturdy, outdoor lockers will be installed just south of the Bellingham Police Department's main parking lot.
"The city of Bellingham is supporting this effort as part of a larger strategy to address homelessness that includes providing portable toilets and dumpsters throughout the city, funding outreach programs, partnering with faith-based organizations to provide temporary shelters, and supporting additional low-income and homeless housing," Blackburn added.
As part of the pilot, the nonprofit also has asked the Whatcom County Council for a county property around downtown Bellingham to install another 12 lockers.
The project grew from a committee of the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness, which is made up of public and private groups as well as individuals.
They were spurred into action after seeing the film series, "Homeless in Bellingham," and focused on lockers after those who were homeless said a place to store their belongings was their greatest need, after housing.
"The project is really all about providing safe storage so people are free to go about their day to work, go to school, look for a job, take the bus to an appointment, eat lunch, sit inside out of the rain, or whatever else it is they need to do," Jones said.
The lockers prevent theft and ease the stigma and burden of having to haul around everything you own, the organization said.
"Having access to your own locker, on your own schedule, can provide a sense of control and purpose," added Carmen Gilmore, a Safe Storage PNW coordinator
Safe Storage PNW researched programs in the U.S. but ruled them out because most were open only a few hours a day or once a week. All required staff to let people access their belongings, they said, and that can increase costs.
It is seen as a temporary solution and a transitional step between the streets and housing, they added.
Here's what the lockers will look like and how the proposed program will work in Bellingham, according to Safe Storage PNW representatives and Bellingham officials:
- The lockers will be about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with two shelves, hooks and a vertical divider in them for organization. They are being designed — the prototype is being built — to easily hold large backpacks and suitcases.
- Each locker will have a keypad for access and small mail slot on the front. The lockers can be installed in different configurations to best fit the space — back to back, in a row or in an L shape. Twelve lockers in two rows of six, back to back, take up less space than a parking spot.
People will be selected by lottery. Locker users will sign a month-to-month agreement, and will be responsible for their locker and the surrounding area.
They will agree to not store dangerous items, including firearms, illegal or stolen goods.
The lockers will have 24-hour video surveillance and lighting, and will be subject to random search at any time.
Violating the lease can result in being evicted from a locker.
A 24-hour contact number will be prominently displayed on the lockers to ensure the safety and needs of those using the lockers and the public.
Lockers will be located in visible, open areas.
The City of Bellingham will install them. Safe Storage PNW will handle client management, maintenance, security and trash pickup.
Users will agreed to regularly check in with the Safe Storage team. They also will have the opportunity to work with a peer counselor/advocate.
"The personal connection and support that this program provides is key to the success of the locker program and helping people transition off of the streets and into a safe place to call home," Jones said, adding that the connection and support "sets our program apart from typical storage programs for the homeless."
The nonprofit behind Safe Storage PNW is raising money to build lockers so those who are homeless have a place to keep their belongings.
The group is asking for $35,000 to get the pilot project up and running.