Bellingham’s homeless encampment at dispatch center will move to new spot in August

The homeless encampment in a Sunnyland neighborhood parking lot will move to a new location this summer in Fairhaven.

The City of Bellingham has approved a permit for the nonprofit HomesNOW! to relocate its Safe Haven tent encampment to 210 McKenzie Ave., in the northwest part of the city-owned parking lot for the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In its new location in the Fairhaven neighborhood, the camp will be renamed Unity Village, and its tents will be replaced with up to 20 tiny homes — they’ll be smaller than 120 square feet — for as many as 28 people.

The tiny homes encampment will be there from Aug. 24 through April 30, provided no one appeals the city’s decision. People have until 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, to file an appeal.

This will be the third temporary location for the homeless encampments managed by HomesNOW!

The encampments have all been on city-owned property, and Bellingham officials have said this will be the last time city land will be made available for such purposes.

The first encampment was on a parking lot behind Bellingham City Hall at 210 Lottie St.

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Unity Village location in the parking lot at 210 McKenzie Ave. in Fairhaven. City of Bellingham Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The current, and second, spot is on part of the What-Comm Dispatch Center’s parking lot at 620 Alabama St. in the Sunnyland neighborhood. It has been there since April 4.

The encampments have been approved under new rules that the Bellingham City Council passed Oct. 22 for temporary homeless shelters in buildings, tent cities, tiny homes and parking areas.

The rules are part of Bellingham officials’ response to a homelessness crisis, in which at least 700 people are without homes in Whatcom County, according to an annual census of the homeless.

The city provides the land, reviews the permit without charge and provides water for free. It doesn’t provide money to run or staff the encampments.

Unity Village residents will have the same rules of conduct as those of the previous encampments, including a ban on illegal drug and alcohol use. However, residents are allowed to use marijuana if they have a medical marijuana card.

Unity Village will include portable toilets, showers, drinking water, an outdoor kitchen, garbage and recycling containers, as well as health and social services, according to its permit application.

About 66 people submitted comments to the city, with some expressing concerns that included neighborhood safety, loitering, possible illegal activity, drop in property value and the impact on tourism and businesses as well as a heron rookery that’s located about 900 feet southwest of the spot.

The city’s response, in short, was that it put conditions in place to deal with those concerns.

Others supported the tiny homes encampment, including Fairhaven Neighbors. The neighborhood association, like other backers, cited the HomesNOW! track record with its previous encampments and its success in helping people find permanent housing and jobs.

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.