Video of a Bellingham police officer’s walk through a homeless encampment in Whatcom Falls Park offers a glimpse into the challenges behind clearing and cleaning the illegal camps.
Eric Osterkamp, a South Bellingham neighborhood officer with the Bellingham Police Department, posted the video on Wednesday, Oct. 12, and an accompanying written post to Nextdoor.com, a private social media website for neighborhoods and their residents. The video can be viewed there only by members with a password; The Bellingham Herald posted the video to its website with permission from BPD.
In the video, Osterkamp explains that the camp takes up a 50-by-100-foot area just west of the water treatment plant, between two streams that feed into Whatcom Creek. Piles of “what look like a bunch of stolen items,” Osterkamp says in the video, surround the main tent, along with bags of trash and a baby stroller.
“Trying to describe these camps is almost impossible, due to the amount of environmental damage, trash, needles, feces and the other unsanitary sights and smells that you encounter,” Osterkamp wrote in the post.
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Osterkamp, in the video, also points to a fallen tree over the creek – an apparent bathroom.
“They’re actually literally pooping and going to the bathroom right inside the creek,” he says. “That drains right down into Whatcom Creek.”
Inside the tent, bicycle parts – apparently stolen – suggest the camper was operating “essentially a bike chop-shop,” Osterkamp says in the video. Many of the items in the camp, he adds, were likely stolen from yards and open garages.
Camps like these, Osterkamp wrote, are more common now than they were several years ago, when he began contacting illegal campers. This particular camper, he writes, has been trespassed three times, and he was issued another citation for this particular camp.
Based on conversations with officials in the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, Osterkamp writes, the man has caused anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000 in damage with his encampments.
Though he has a parent who lives in Whatcom County, the man “just wants to live in the woods,” Osterkamp writes.
“The city is working hard to deal with the illegal activity involved with this type of camp, but often the criminal activity involves stolen items with no known victim (bikes, nail guns, tools, jewelry, etc…) and illegal drug sales,” Osterkamp’s post says. “Both of these crimes take an immense toll on the surrounding neighbors and are very difficult for officers to investigate.
“We continue to work towards solutions for these and other types of illegal camps.”