The spotlight of the national news is on the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump. The House impeachment team is putting forth a compelling argument about the need for accountability. The spotlight of local news in Bellingham is on Camp 210.
Camp 210 was a homeless encampment of 90 to 120 people outside Bellingham City Hall to apply pressure to the city to come up with better solutions to the housing crisis. After existing for three months, increasing protests — including many protestors from outside Bellingham — began to take a dangerous turn with harassment of city officials, a city hall break-in and a hatchet attack. This led the city to decide it was time to clear the encampment.
The Bellingham Herald recently reported that it cost almost $200,000 to do a single sweep of a single tent city over the span of approximately two days, because there always seem to be funds for punitive responses.
Like many people, issues of housing instability have impacted my life. My mother lost her home when she became dependent on Social Security, which did not cover her mortgage. The lists for senior living facilities were years long. She found an apartment that was barely affordable. Her health deteriorated and we learned that affordable housing is not enough — it has to be accessible, too. A mere two steps trapped her inside her home. None of her children had wheelchair-accessible homes. Miraculously, we found a beautiful place for her in Bellingham. Less than two years after she passed, the place closed and all the residents lost their homes.
For far too long, the safety nets in our society have dropped too many people. An estimated 1 million people experience homelessness either through informal housing, being unsheltered or using emergency housing, which is primarily overnight shelters, but also transitional housing. Who came up with the idea that an overnight shelter was an appropriate response to homelessness? As if a traumatizing night or two in a shelter could ever create long-term solutions for anyone.
The housing crisis is one that has to be dealt with on every level of government, whether in the form of funding, greater protections against eviction or changing zoning laws or regulations to ensure affordable, accessible housing is built. As the Camp 210 advocates stressed, so much can and should be done on the local level, especially since zoning rules are local.
Ideally, responses to the pandemic housing crisis will usher in policy changes that provide permanent solutions to housing crises.
Are we in a new normal? Then let’s normalize housing for all.
Jill Mullins is a social justice lawyer in Bellingham, Washington.
Read more in the Feb. 17-23, 2021 issue.