The United Nations identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right, defining it as “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.” It further clarifies these rights to include security of tenure, adequate conditions, protection against forced evictions and access to affordable housing. During COVID 19, the consequential impacts to the unhoused in our community are multiplied. The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force upholds this statement and asserts the rights of the most vulnerable people to be treated with dignity, respect and care.

Ill-considered decisions, rhetoric and escalations leading up to the violent, unannounced, pre-emptive sweep on January 28th – and the demonstrated lack of compassion, and the extreme use of militarized presence employed in that sweep – are all deplorable milestones that have further damaged trust and reinforced systematized harms faced by our houseless community.

Across Bellingham and Whatcom County an overwhelming number of individuals, neighborhoods, businesses and more have spoken clearly with personal donations of clothing, shelter items, food, money and other necessities to support the actions of those who seek to forge a new way to envision an end to this horrific, systemic reality in our society.

The Camp 210 residents and their advocates have regrouped to a new location. The Mayor and County officials have responded that this is an illegal encampment that will be swept, citing the lack of a city-issued permit. The need for the Camp 210 residents, along with scores of other unhoused members of the community, to have a place to go remains glaringly obvious – it will not go away simply because they are no longer in view of City Hall. An alternative course of action could have been to identify an emergency camping site in advance of the sweep, issue a permit, and set up portable sanitary facilities. It’s not too late to take this action as a stop-gap measure, until a more comprehensive and compassionate plan can be implemented.

The plight of the unhoused in our community has been laid bare. It is imperative and incumbent upon all of us that this stark and consequential reality remain visible, and that we summon the collective will to take whatever steps are necessary to create a healing new reality. We call on our elected officials, institutions, department heads, non-profit organizations, and community members to join with the unhoused and those with whom they have created trusting partnerships, to engage in an authentic on-going effort to imagine, envision and plan for real and sustained responsive sheltering options that protect all life and lead to stable housing for all.

The Board of the Whatcom Human Rights Task ForceAne Berrett, Damani Johnson, David Crook, Deauna Davis, Eve Smason-Marcus, Geneva Blake, Harmony Devaney, Julie Mauermann, William John