To Kelli Linville, Mayor of Bellingham; Members of Bellingham City Council; Jack Louws, Whatcom County Executive; Members of Whatcom County Council; Scott Korthuis, Mayor of Lynden; Members of Lynden City Council; Jon Mutchler, Mayor of Ferndale; Members of Ferndale City Council; Bonnie Onyon, Mayor of Blaine; Members of Blaine City Council; John Perry, Mayor of Everson; Members of Everson City Council; Jim Ackerman, Mayor of Nooksack; Members of Nooksack City Council; Kyle Christensen, Mayor of Sumas; Members of Sumas City Council; and the Whatcom County Health Department:
We, the members of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, are writing to express our concern about the growing crisis in homelessness locally and the lack of sufficient services to support this entire population. Recent, unprecedented snow and cold weather conditions have put enormous pressure on those without shelter who are at risk of serious illness or death in at or below freezing temperatures. Recent statistics put the number of homeless in Whatcom County at somewhere between 850-3000 including over 500 children.
We understand and appreciate that you have made more resources available to support those without shelter in our community during the recent snow storm, but we believe that there must be more done on an ongoing basis to house those in need, and not only during emergencies. We are, therefore, calling for consistent and meaningful action. We request that you set the goal of building sufficient social housing units to shelter the estimated 3000 people currently in need in our county. In addition, due to the effects of climate change, we can anticipate there will be more unexpected weather events in the future. These will take the form of storms, wildfires, and other situations that we cannot predict and which will put too many people who are already vulnerable at further risk. The time for systemic and deliberate action to address the housing crisis in Whatcom County is now.
Housing is a human right, a right codified in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, homelessness is a human rights issue. Because it is clear that there is an urgent need for housing locally, we have formed a Housing Committee at the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force. The work of this committee will be on addressing the systemic problems that create homelessness. We are currently in the process of identifying ways that we can best play a role in tackling this humanitarian crisis at the local level. We invite you to join us in this commitment and to attend an upcoming summit that we plan to convene later this spring, along with organizations and individuals who are currently providing and receiving services and support around this issue.
In the meantime, we want to call attention to the fact that existing services and shelters cannot and do not accommodate the entire homeless population, which, like any community, is diverse. In plainer words, we are asking you and your agencies to take immediate steps to create emergency services and shelter for all who are currently unhoused. There is an urgent need for greater capacity to serve homeless people in the County, particularly individuals and families who do not fit into the narrow categories that currently define who is allowed to have access to safe spaces and resources. This includes providing shelter for male-female couples as well as individuals who are gender non-binary, accompanied by pets and service animals, and those who are unable or unwilling to take shelter with religious institutions due to traumatic experiences they have had in that context, including but not limited to sexual abuse.
We ask that you join a systemic and collaborative effort along with the many groups working locally who are investing energy, resources, and efforts into finding solutions that serve all equitably. We believe that the health and welfare of our entire community depends on this effort because we belong, ultimately, to the same human family.
Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Housing Committee
“Housing the Human Family”
 “On January 25th, 2018, volunteers and homeless housing providers counted 815 people as experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County” Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness 2018 Annual Report, page 2 https://www.cob.org/Documents/planning/community-development/2018-point-in-time-count.pdf
 “3123 individuals were assisted in 2016 with shelter and/or housing” Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness 2017 Annual Report, page 4 http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/31701/2017-Homeless-Person-Count-Report
 “2799 individuals were assisted in 2017 with shelter and/or housing” Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness 2018 Annual Report, page 4 https://www.cob.org/Documents/planning/community-development/2018-point-in-time-count.pdf
 “The number of homeless students identified in Bellingham Public Schools [was] 556 in 2016-17” Bellingham schools receive grants to help homeless students http://promise.bellinghamschools.org/2017/12/14/bellingham-schools-receive-grants-help-homeless-students/