Crime

Bellingham police investigating HomesNOW! managers for allegedly misappropriating funds

The Bellingham Police Department is investigating “credible information” that specific managing members of HomesNOW!, the nonprofit organization that operates a tiny home encampment for the homeless, have misappropriated funds, according to a city press release.

Bellingham police received a complaint from a HomesNOW! board member on Sept. 27 that claimed specific representatives of HomesNOW! misappropriated funds. Bellingham police started a criminal investigation that is in the “very early stages of gathering information,” according to the city release.

No further details regarding the complaint or the individuals named in the complaint were immediately available from the city, but the press release stated the individuals are no longer part of the HomesNOW! board of directors.

“We are just in the beginning stages of the investigation and working toward finding out exactly how far-reaching this misappropriation of funds is,” Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy said. “The city’s press release indicates ‘managing members.’ At this point, that is as specific as we can responsibly get.”

HomesNOW! operates a homeless encampment with up to 20 tiny homes, named Unity Village, in the city-owned parking lot at 210 McKenzie Ave., near the Post Point Water Treatment Plant in the Fairhaven neighborhood. The tiny home encampment, which had its ribbon-cutting in September, can house as many as 28 people.

Unity Village was previously a tent encampment, known as Safe Haven, that was moved from the What-Comm Dispatch Center’s parking lot at 620 Alabama St. in the Sunnyland neighborhood. Prior to that, Winter Haven, operated behind City Hall.

Unity Village is permitted to operate at its current location through April 2020. HomesNow! has opened all of the encampments with the approval of the city. Each time the camps move, they get a new name.

“We are disappointed by this news as operations with HomesNOW! have proven to be successful,” Bellingham Police Chief David Doll said in a prepared statement. “We will ensure a thorough investigation is done and that those who are found responsible for criminal misconduct are held accountable.”

The city of Bellingham is still engaged with HomesNow! to ensure the encampments continue to operate safely, the release states.

“I’m concerned about the safety of the people in the camp, and we take these allegations seriously,” Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said in a prepared statement. “While no direct city funds are involved in the operation of HomesNOW! encampments, we have permitted the encampments and allowed them on city property. It is important to me that any individuals involved in misconduct are held accountable for their actions.”

If anyone has any information that would assist in the investigation, they’re asked to contact Lt. Claudia Murphy at 360-778-8834 or cmurphy@cob.org.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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