Sweeps to Snow - Hate and Politricks Close the Only Warming Shelter in So-called Bellingham

admin_general - Posted on 04 January 2022

Sweeps to Snow - Hate and Politricks Close the Only Warming Shelter in So-called Bellingham….and why we need Homefulness

By Sin


sifting through my fanny pack 

my pockets

running out to the car really quick

tryna find that card

that piece of paper 

that will make that bureaucracy, that case worker, that institution 

that will make them believe me when i say 


i am who i say i am 





single mama 

welfare queen 

disabled and diseased 

mind never at ease 


i am who i say i am 


the last time I felt cold and couldn't get warm 

my children and I had just moved into a new tent

I didn't have much supplies yet like a sleeping pad or bag

anything I had of the like, I used for the kids

that first night without supplies was terribly cold 

there was nothing but tarp between Gaia's crust and my aching body

I shivered and rolled around all night 

wincing from the pain in my neck and back from the shivering

defeat and anger in my bones because I couldn't get warm or comfortable

my whole body felt like an ice cube

I couldn't get warm 

I was in agony


My name is Sin. I am formerly unhoused and live in so-called Bellingham, Washington on the stolen land of the Coast Salish peoples and this is what I gotta say.


First of all, I am absolutely disgusted and blasphemed at city and county officials for closing down the emergency warming shelter in the middle of extreme weather conditions. I can't say I am surprised though because their apathy is the only consistent thing about them. They say they have their justifications (which I will touch on) but I think these "justifications" are just a facade to the truth. They are snakes hiding their fangs which they wish to sink into the poor and cleanse the world of us all. They turn a blind eye away and turn their noses up because they don't want to deal with the "dirty," "feral" street rats and because they already have the upper hand, sinking their teeth in is just too easy. We are in the year 2022 now with awareness, technology, social justice. Within this community we have all the resources we need to take care of each other. Empty buildings, a surplus of food, clean water, electricity, supplies, volunteers, and community members willing and able to commit their time, love, and energy to come alongside our neighbors outside. Yet here we sit, waiting for crumbs to be thrown down from the capitalist class who owns most of society's wealth and means of production. Their excuse? Liability. They don't want to be liable to the "public" for any harm done. And you know whose safety isn't included in those words "the public" or "liability"? Poor people, unhoused neighbors. Their safety is just as important as Mayor Seth Fleetwood's or County Executive Satpal Sidhu or any of the other rich dragons sitting on their hoarded piles of gold. 



In the last week and a half, weather conditions have been extreme. It began snowing December 24th, 2021, Christmas Eve, and Whatcom County officials unlocked the doors to a basement as an emergency warming shelter the night of the 27th. An extreme weather warning was issued December 22, 2021. Despite this extreme weather warning, city officials sat around for 4 days after conditions began and continued to worsen before they considered unlocking the doors to one of the many empty, unused, heated public buildings all over the city.



On the night of December 26th, 2021, city and county officials' solution was to haphazardly park two city buses near city hall to offer as a space for houseless folks to sit, and wait until they could find an actual indoor option. Comrades ventured out to find people and offered this as a place to go to get warm but were met with very reasonable responses and a total lack of desire to participate in this seemingly futile endeavor. Are our neighbors supposed to just pack all their things and leave their spot? How long would they get to stay? Could they bring their things with them? Where would they sleep? On the bus? Where would they go in the morning? This pathetic attempt was laughable and disgusting, but also felt like a sick joke. 



The next night, December 27, 2021, was when city and county officials opened the doors to a room in one building for daytime use, and the basement of a separate building for overnight use. It was astonishing how much effort it took for county officials to merely get the doors unlocked. Their complacency and lack of effort shone even more brightly in regards to what lay beyond the now, finally unlocked doors. 


Here are some of the highlights as reported by a handful of volunteers who worked directly with the warming shelter for the duration of time the doors were unlocked. 


"The warming shelter was in the basement level of a county building with barely any room to walk between folks' belongings. There were absolutely no private spaces. There were two small restrooms, no cooking space and only one sink where the water kettle was kept. The first night they didn't even have a garbage can so volunteers made one out of the empty box that their sad, disposable sleeping bags came in," one comrade/volunteer reported. "These sleeping bags were paper thin, almost see through." -Anonymous


"There were many times where people were without blankets or sleeping bags." -Anonymous


"There was no first aid kit or narcan on site either. It was super stressful from the start. People knew they would be shuffled across the street each morning, so nobody could get comfortable where they were. It's hard to describe just how little was offered. Not only were there no beds, no sleeping mats, no bedding or personal care items, the room itself was so cold." -Anonymous


To add insult to injury, yet another cruel fact, if our unhoused neighbors didn't have a direct line to someone working for the county, they would have had no idea there were options to warm up. Houseless folk don't have regular privileged access to phones, internet, social media, etc. where most of this is posted by the city (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It was a small, exhausted group of random community members scrambling to literally physically bring people in, warm them up, administer first aid, feed people, and fight for their lives. 


"Nothing was offered at all. Even the paper sleeping bags and handful of mats were not offered. Folks had to ask. There was absolutely no plan for hydration or food. The volunteers outside of *us* were not even talking with the folks coming in. They stood next to the door quietly. The county did nothing but unlock the door." -Anonymous 


The county and the city combined shut down the only winter shelter which served over 45 people over the course of 6 days. On the night with the most people there were 37 people in the shelter and the evangelical christian shelter known as Basecamp and The Lighthouse Mission, was nearly full which ultimately left dozens of folks without a place to go in below freezing temperatures and several inches of snow on the ground. There were no signs of the snow stopping or melting. For the night of 12/29/2021, 220 people stayed the night. 173 of those were men and 47 were women. The shelter was 92% full. Basecamp has a maximum capacity of 240 people while the overflow shelter is open and has an average of 92% full capacity with only 20 beds available for those who qualify. There are many folks who do not meet these qualifications for a handful of reasons. Many of our neighbors have been banned from this shelter. They are sent away without remorse, dehumanized. Throughout the duration the emergency warming shelter was open, many of our neighbors outside were too traumatized by their experiences with Basecamp and The Lighthouse Mission to even consider coming into the basement warming shelter even though they were letting anyone and everyone in with no questions asked. They need a place that is safe and their own home. We still don't know if they all made it through this cold so far, some of our unhoused comrades we have established relationships with are yet to be found. Currently volunteers operating under grassroots mutual aid infrastructure are working on making tent safe heaters from scratch as an emergency measure. 



This emergency warming shelter remained open for 6 days and was brought to a screeching halt and shut down last night, January 2nd, 2022 with another known extreme weather warning issued the morning before. Councilwoman Lisa Anderson claimed that the shutdown was justified because it's "warming up." This week calls for not only freezing temperatures and a mix of freezing rain and snow at the beginning of the week but also more extreme weather on its way. There is currently a wind advisory in effect from 1am to 4pm PST Tuesday, January 4th with east to northeast winds averaging 25 to 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. The impacts are not only the dreadful chill but these winds could blow around unsecured objects, tree limbs could be blown down; and they estimate that power outages may occur. Meteorologists are also watching Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon for a possible high impact snow event with several inches accumulating. They do not currently know the exact time this will hit but they know it is on the way. Councilwoman Lisa Anderson has sorely miscalculated her assessment. 



On a broader note, Bellingham weather averages a daytime temperature of 44 degrees and a nighttime temperature of 31 degrees during the winter months. This is not appropriate weather to survive outside in. This is a matter of life or death. Our neighbors are freezing to death.



We have not yet touched on how the issue of our unhoused comrades being swept fully compounds and further complicates the issue of extreme weather. I could write another article or 300 about that alone. In order to get the point across directly, I would like to cite a few words shared by a currently unhoused comrade.


"It's a daily struggle already to be houseless and outside but then factor in extreme weather conditions like snow, ice, rain and below freezing temperatures. Houseless folks find themselves in a life or death situation real quick! Cold, wet, and freezing with no way to get warm. Having to worry about frostbite and hypothermia and freezing to death all alone...oh yeah and then on top of all that you gotta constantly worry about getting swept everyday. Nonstop chased around by the city and cops. Nonstop forced to leave where you are set up in your temporary spot to try and survive another day. Forcing you to leave, throwing your belongings away, issuing trespass citations, etc." -Phonixx


"Our neighbors deserve more than thoughtless plans for emergency shelters, sweeps in the middle of snowstorms, and continued criminalization. Local politicians continue to prove their disregard for human life and their fixation on profit when the issue is a matter of life and death, we must demand more." -BOP Mutual Aid


These are a few of many reasons why it is crucial that we build Homefulness in Bellingham. Call to action, click on this link, and read more about a poor peoples’ solution to homelessness.




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