Thank you Neighbors!
A Tiny Gated Community in Fairhaven
From August 2019 to April 2020.
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Jim and Charlie working out big plans
by Alex DeLuna and Emily Weiner
HomesNOW! Not Later:
- Is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization staffed entirely by volunteers working together to help people experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County transition to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.
- Provides safe and stable communities for homeless individuals to live in while these individuals actively seek permanent housing. Residents of the HomesNOW communities live in safety, with peace of mind, and with access to basic human necessities, one-on-one advocates, and support for finding housing, jobs, and social services.
- Is open to homeless individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and regardless of how long they have been homeless.According to the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness, as of January 2019, there were 700 homeless people in Whatcom County. Approximately 42 percent of these homeless people go unsheltered on a given night.
Currently: The HomesNOW applicant waitlist is 140 individuals experiencing homelessness:
Many people experiencing homelessness are forced to illegally camp on public or private property, or sleep in their cars. Because these individuals must camp or take refuge illegally, they are often forced to move locations, resulting in instability and loss of personal belongings. Homeless individuals often lack basic human necessities including bathrooms, showers, drinking water, cooking facilities, and garbage services. Many homeless people are forced to carry all of their belongings with them at all times, which often prevents them from being able to seek employment.
A HomesNOW community offers:
- Residents are provided with transitional housing, bathrooms, showers, access to clean drinking water, a community kitchen and refrigerator, laundry, garbage services, computer and internet access, a mailing address, and security. There is always a staff member on site, 24-7.
- The community Is fenced and gated, and everyone—residents, staff, volunteers, and guests—must sign in and out at the gate. This allows HomesNOW staff and residents to know who is onsite at all times and restrict access of unwanted visitors. People’s personal belongings are no longer at risk of being stolen, they do not have to worry about being attacked at night, and they are relieved from the constant concern of finding a place to take shelter.
HomesNOW communities are intended for:
Homeless individuals who are working, are disabled and have a source of income, or if they don’t have a source of income are willing to work with HomesNOW advocates to get one (either by applying for benefits or looking for work). Applicants are selected based on their ability to succeed in a community-living setting, and individuals are not eligible if they have outstanding warrants, are on the sex offender registry, or have a history of repetitive family violence or other repeat offenses.
Involvement by the City of Bellingham:
Bellingham’s Chief of Police David Doll reviews applicants with HomesNOW president Jim Peterson and makes recommendations. Furthermore, each week HomesNOW holds check-in meetings with the police chief and the city’s Planning & Community Development Director Rick Sepler.
Support by the Chief of Police
At a public meeting during the permit review process for HomesNOW’s third site, Chief Doll stated that HomeNOW has "my complete support.” At another HomesNOW community meeting with residents who live near where the third site was by then in the process of being constructed, Chief Doll publicly stated, "Take the most skeptical person in this room and multiply that by 100, and that was me before we started to work with HomesNOW.” He then described how the preceding two HomesNOW communities have had positive impacts on the adjacent neighborhoods and reported that crime rates have decreased around HomesNOW site locations.
Focus on Permanent Housing
As one HomesNOW resident described his previous experiences living on the streets, "I don’t like being out there because I have to make a choice: Either I am threatened, or I have to become a threat to defend myself.” Because HomesNOW community residents do not have to fear for their personal safety or their belongings, they instead can focus on whatever it takes to find permanent housing.
HomesNOW recognizes that each resident is an individual with their own abilities, struggles, and needs. HomesNOW works with residents to identify their barriers and then help them overcome those barriers, whether it is helping them find a job, advocating for social services, or providing stability so they can make medical appointments. HomesNOW volunteer advocates work one-on-one with residents, offering help, for example, finding job training, applying for work, applying for Social Security or disability benefits, and acquiring a phone, a photo ID, reading glasses, dental care, or other necessities. Advocates encourage and guide residents to use social services available from other local nonprofit organizations or public agencies. HomesNOW seeks to end homelessness one person at a time.HomesNOW residents excel at forming their own community, friendships, and connections, which are important in overcoming obstacles.
A Chance to Thrive
HomesNOW president Jim Peterson sees the residents begin to thrive after arriving, "When they first walk in here, their heads are hung low and they look ashamed. They think they have no jobs prospects. The next few days I see them talking and laughing with other residents at the smoking tent and around the site. They’re able to relax. Then next thing I know, by the end of the week, they’re coming up to us to help them with getting their job applications ready!”
A critical aspect of HomesNOW that differentiates it from other transitional housing programs is that all HomesNOW residents must participate in the community’s self-management, taking full responsibility for all the tasks of community living. For example, all residents are required to take shifts at the welcome/sign-in station. Every Sunday afternoon, the residents walk around a 2-block radius of the camp to pick up litter (and get to know the neighbors). At weekly meetings, residents resolve conflicts and hold elections for positions that rotate every two weeks: mayor of the community, deputy mayor, and leads for the kitchen, grounds, bathrooms, showers, in-kind donations, security, and the welcome station.
By governing their own community, residents are increasing their skills in cooperation and leadership—skills that are highly valued by employers. Each resident also adheres to a strict no-drugs no-alcohol policy, which applies both inside and outside the gated community. Guests brought on-site must also adhere to this policy and cannot stay on the grounds overnight. Residents are evicted if they break these rules.
To help offset operating costs and allow the site to be self-sustaining and self-funded, the residents held a vote to pay utility fees: either $150 per month or 10 percent of the resident’s income, whichever is lower. Residents who do not have an income can instead take on extra shifts, for example at the welcome desk. These payments are used to help pay bills for site operations and upkeep, such as electricity, sewage and garbage disposal, and internet access, as well as for site supplies such as toilet paper, soap, and other household products.
This payment model helps residents to transition to permanent housing with greater ease by developing a familiarity with the expectations of traditional rent and housing requirements.
HomesNOW cooperates with local nonprofits and public agencies
HomesNOW’s relationships with other organizations include cooperating with local nonprofits and public agencies to deliver their services. For example, for recommendations on suitable applicants, HomesNOW is coordinating with the Whatcom Opportunity Council and the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). Other community partners include the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Northwest Youth Services, WeSNiP, Mountain Veterinary Hospital, Builders Alliance, Tidal Vision, KZAX Radio, Parberry Environment Solutions, Lyndale Glass, and Heating Green.
In addition to its unique model, other ways HomesNOW differs from other local organizations that help homeless people is that HomesNOW eligibility requirements do not include a minimum time period that someone must have been homeless, and HomesNOW allows couples to apply and become residents. In 2017, HomesNOW built two tiny homes (and purchased a third), which were installed in Lummi Nation. Over two years, these tiny homes have had 11 residents, of which eight have found permanent housing.
Site #1 Winterhaven
In January 2019, HomesNOW began managing Winter Haven, Bellingham’s first temporary tent encampment, which was located behind Bellingham City Hall. At Winter Haven, HomesNOW provided 35 homeless people with a safe and relatively warm place to stay (and hotel vouchers when the temperature dropped too low for living in tents). Five residents found permanent housing. The City permit for Winter Haven was only for 90 days, ending on April 6, 2019.
Site # 2 SafeHaven
At that time, HomesNOW began managing its second temporary tent encampment, Safe Haven, located in the What-Comm 911 Call Center parking lot, near a busy intersection in the Sunnyland Neighborhood. By mobilizing residents and other volunteers to construct tiny homes, which are each about eight feet by eleven feet (plus a 3-foot porch), HomesNOW has been able to provide some of the Safe Haven residents with four walls, a roof over their heads, a locked door, and a wood floor. These stable structures protect residents from harsh and inclement weather and allow for more privacy and security than tents. With electricity in the tiny homes, residents can use radiant infrared heaters to regulate their home’s temperature and have a secure place to charge their electronics.
Building towards Success
As of August 2019, nine Safe Haven residents have secured permanent housing, nine of the current residents have found full-time employment while searching for permanent housing. Residents report having a sense of pride in having a space they can call their home. As Jim has proudly said to Edgemoor community members, "Come down to Safe Haven! The residents would love to show it off!”
Drugs / Alcohol Policy
The HomesNOW alcohol- and drug-free policy is strictly enforced. This policy is essential because some of the residents are recovering addicts who need to live in an alcohol- and drug-free environment. Since January 2019, only four residents have been evicted for alcohol or drug use, or for refusing a drug test.
Site #3 Unity Village
With the Safe Haven permit expiring at the end of August, HomesNOW has started constructing Unity Village, a new tiny home community in the Fairhaven Neighborhood. Unity Village is located on City of Bellingham property at 210 McKenzie Avenue, near the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. This community will consist of 20 tiny homes, either single- or double-occupancy, with an expected maximum of 24 people living on site.
Two additional tiny homes will be constructed, one for staff office space and the other for on-site staff sleeping quarters. The first Unity Village residents will move there from Safe Haven the last week of August. The Unity Village permit lasts until April 20, 2020, when the City needs to reclaim the property for a construction project.
The location of Unity Village has been chosen with consideration of minimizing any adverse impacts to the site and the surrounding area. The project site is surrounded by non-residential uses, with the project boundary 460 feet from the nearest residential property and 2,500 feet from the nearest school. Impacts on any neighbors will be minimized by establishing quiet hours on the site.
Weekly Litter Pickup
Continuing the legacy of Safe Haven’s weekly litter pickup of the surrounding neighborhood, Unity Village residents will conduct a weekly litter pickup in the nearby vicinity. Signs will be posted around the perimeter of the site to limit any camping or loitering outside of the fenced community. The property will be restored to its original condition at the end of the project.
Securing Long-Term Site Locations
Anticipating the need for new space to continue its mission and, having proven its effectiveness and ability to be good neighbors, HomesNOW is in the process of securing long-term site locations. These sites will be secured through multi-year leases on either public or private property. At least one site will be leased and established before the Unity Village permit expires April 20, 2020. The overarching goal is to construct four community sites in total, with each site consisting of about 20 tiny homes and designed for a different portion of the homeless population: veterans, women, families with children, and adults in general. In the meantime, Unity Village will be the last short-term housing site before HomesNOW moves into long-term, leased locations.