Bellingham’s homeless tent community behind City Hall gets a new location in April

Winter Haven to shelter up to 40 homeless people through April

On Jan. 3, 2019, HomesNOW! opened Winter Haven, a temporary encampment for the homeless, in the employee parking lot behind Bellingham City Hall.
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On Jan. 3, 2019, HomesNOW! opened Winter Haven, a temporary encampment for the homeless, in the employee parking lot behind Bellingham City Hall.

The homeless tent encampment in the parking lot behind City Hall is moving in April to city-owned property on Alabama Street.

The city of Bellingham approved a permit for the nonprofit HomesNOW! to relocate the tent community to the southern part of the parking lot of the What-Comm Dispatch Center at 620 Alabama St., the city announced Wednesday in a news release.

HomesNOW! will manage the temporary tent encampment, which is being called Safe Haven, and it will pay for expenses related to the camp. The city will allow it to be on city property at no charge.

In its current location behind City Hall, the tent encampment is known as Winter Haven.

Safe Haven will be in the Sunnyland neighborhood from at least April 3 to July 1, provided no one appeals the city’s decision.

Bellingham officials said the camp could stay there another 30 to 60 days, provided HomesNOW! meets all of the city’s requirements and conditions.

The space will allow up to 32 men and women who are homeless to live in 25 tents — five more tents than are in Winter Haven.

It will include amenities such as bathrooms, showers, drinking water, an outdoor kitchen, garbage and recycling containers, as well as human and social services, according to its permit application.

Safe Haven will follow the same rules and requirements as Winter Haven.

Safe Haven.JPG
Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A chain-link fence will enclose the encampment, much as it does now behind City Hall.

A “significant number” of comments — more than 75 — came in about Safe Haven, said Rick Sepler, Planning and Community Development director for Bellingham.

He said the city’s primary concern was for the safety of the people who will be living in the encampment and the safety of the neighborhood.

“We feel the conditions address that adequately,” Sepler said to The Bellingham Herald.

In letters and emails to the city, some residents and employees expressed concern about neighborhood safety, possible illegal activity and the camp’s proximity to a school and parks.

Bellingham Police Chief David Doll addressed some of those concerns in a written response.

“Winter Haven is currently near the same elements of concern, and we have found an actual decrease in incidents of trespassing, encampments and other social-maintenance problems due to the ownership Winter Haven guests have taken in the ensuring security/safety for the surrounding area,” Doll wrote.

In their public comments, others supported having the encampment in their neighborhood.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.