A day after the city legally took possession of the Aloha Motel, police ensured every last room was emptied Wednesday morning, Sept. 2.
Despite numerous posters and in-person warnings before the city’s takeover of the condemned motel, a few people were still in their rooms when police made their rounds, pounding on doors.
“Bellingham Police! Come out or call out now! We’re going to search your room!” officers yelled outside each room.
The process, though loud, was generally uneventful, with everyone cooperating with the order to leave.
A team of four officers in masks and gloves – a safety precaution as some rooms have residual methamphetamine contamination – systematically entered each room to check that everyone was out, then locked up as they left and spray-painted each door with a big black “X.”
The motel’s keys didn’t work on deadbolts for six rooms, so officers used a small battering ram to pop into each of those rooms.
Only two of the motel’s 28 rooms had anyone left inside. Social workers from the city’s Homeless Outreach Team were on site to assist as they were able.
As of Monday, outreach team workers Kate Robertson and Theresa Meurs had talked to the remaining people at the motel, and everyone at that time had said they had a plan.
Davy Alvarez, who spoke with The Bellingham Herald two weeks before the motel’s closure, said he had since been able to secure a room at the nearby Villa Inn, with some financial assistance from the Opportunity Council. The Villa’s rate is higher than the Aloha’s, meaning his very limited income would be pinched even tighter.
But Wednesday morning, some of the other people left at the motel still hadn’t been able to remove their belongings. None of those kicked out Wednesday were willing to talk to a reporter for this story.
“We’re trying to coordinate with volunteers at the Samish Way Resource Center,” said Greg Winter, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center.
The assistance they could offer at this point was limited, he said. Some people might be able to bring a truck to help people move their things, but that’s about all they were going to be able to do, Winter said. “We’re trying to help as best we can.”
By 11:35 a.m., the motel was empty. Before the end of the day, the city’s Public Works Department was expected to put up fencing around the property. A security guard will remain watching over the motel.
The city will hold the possessions remaining at the motel, and people who still need to get their stuff will need to schedule time to do so with the planning and police departments as soon as possible.
By the end of the week, the city plans to perform asbestos testing at the site. The results will dictate how the demolition process can take place, said Darby Cowles, senior planner with the city.
The motel, located at 315 N. Samish Way, could be demolished as soon as October, and then the city will request proposals to redevelop the property.
For those wondering what will become of the classic neon Aloha sign: it will be kept on site and included in the city’s solicit for ideas. If no one wants to use it with the property, it could go through surplus, Cowles said.
Securing the motel marked the end of a condemnation process that resulted in a $1.58 million settlement with the owners Sang and Mi Yi.
The city first started the process of shutting the motel down last fall after spending close to a year building up a case against the motel, documenting criminal activity through police reports and taking testimony from surrounding property owners.
Neighbors from the York and Sehome neighborhood associations had pushed the city to do something about the motel after reading about the beating death of a man in one of the motel’s rooms in December 2013.
Anne Mackie, a member of the York neighborhood board and one of those who were upset after hearing of the December 2013 death, was on site for a short time Wednesday, watching as the motel was finally closed.
“I think it’s a big step forward for the community,” Mackie said. “It brought together a lot of resources to assist people with the housing plight. And it’s galvanized our two neighborhoods to work more closely with law enforcement.”