Hello, this is Doug from HomesNOW! Not Later. We have a few updates. We also need your help as well.
1. New Residents:
About a week ago, we had 3 new residents move in. So far things seem to be going smoothly. It typically takes a week or 2 for new residents to get acclimated to the environment and the community, such as learning the rules and duties. We have space for letting in new residents and we intend to let new ones in within a week or 2. The reason why we don’t let all new residents in at once is because it destabilizes the overall community for a time as people have to learn to get along and get to know one another. This problem doesn’t happen when new residents are admitted a few at a time though.
In January when we first opened the Winter Haven tent encampment in the parking lot of city hall, we had 10 residents, and then we added 10 more in one day. It ended up being kind of an issue for a few weeks before everything smoothed out. Learning from that, this time is going a lot smoother.
2. Updates to Volunteer/Visitor/Staff Policies and Procedures:
This week we began writing our policies and procedures document for Board Members, Staff, Volunteers and Visitors. These Staff Policies and Procedures are intended to be a written set of guidelines for the smooth, safe and effective functioning of HomesNOW! Not Later as an organization.
The purpose of HomesNOW is to end homelessness one person at a time. HomesNOW as an organization provides safe and stable housing and additional services for homeless individuals. Members of HomesNOW consist of people of various backgrounds, skills and circumstances who are actively helping people seek permanent housing as well as alleviate the suffering of those who have yet to receive housing.
The HomesNOW Policies and Procedures document includes general policies for staff, visitors and volunteers, a code of conduct, and a description of services that HomesNOW provides. The policies and guidelines in this document are reviewed regularly by HomesNOW and are changed as necessary based on input from staff, volunteers and the general public. Until this point we have had a set of policies, rules and procedures for Residents of Unity Village, but we did not have a formal document for Volunteers, Staff, and Visitors.
Parts of this document have already been released in regards to financial policies and sexual harassment policies, those sections were consolidated into this policy document.
HomesNOW encourages the egalitarian model of self-governance and decentralization as a general principle. Using this model makes the job of the staff and volunteers easier and more effective in general as well as promotes homeless individuals achieving permanent housing where they will have to self-govern once they find permanent housing. HomesNOW supports the basic idea of promoting the general welfare of the community, especially those who need it most.
HomesNOW encourages staff and volunteers to use their own initiative and creativity to engage and solve problems. If you see a way that things can be done better, propose a solution, run an experiment. HomesNOW as an organization also encourages volunteers, staff and board members to treat homeless individuals as equal and mutual individuals. In many cases with many organizations, homeless individuals are not treated as equal/mutual people and the result is increased levels of social dysfunction, criminal activity, etc.
When people are treated as mutual individuals who can contribute, they generally will rise to the occasion. If you have any questions or suggestions for the Policies of HomesNOW, please let us know.
3. HomesNOW at the Homeless Strategies Workgroup:
Last Friday, I had a chance to attend the Whatcom County Homeless Strategies Workgroup. Two board members of HomesNOW sit on the workgroup (Markis Dee and Nickolas D. Lewis). One of the discussions that comes up commonly in the workgroup is the concept of funding. How to fund emergency shelters, how to fund homeless outreach efforts, how to fund hotel rooms during the cold, how to fund affordable housing. Money comes up a lot.
At the workgroup, we tried to explain that solving these problems is not always about money. We are trying to encourage local governments and nonprofits to think outside the box. We explained that our model of housing (tiny homes) only costs around $1200/mo to operate, and that it’s the best “bang for buck” sheltering option in Bellingham and Whatcom County. We discussed that even just being allowed to lease land goes a long way toward solving this problem because the structures and infrastructure are inexpensive compared to the raw cost of the land. There are also locations that are sitting vacant, not being used for years, or spots which are not ideal for permanent development, and that’s the beauty of the tiny homes, they are not on permanent foundations and can be moved around as the situation changes. Drive around anywhere, look at how many empty spots there are. Sure not all are owned by the city or local governments, but there’s a lot of potential there.
We approach governments for land because they have a mandate to look after the general welfare of the community, especially in cases where it does not take up any taxpayer dollars. HomesNOW does not take government money, we are just asking for a spot to use for helping people into housing.
At the workgroup we made it known that HomesNOW will be seeking a site to move Unity Village to. The site we are proposing for first is one of the sites that was a previous possibility through the city. The site is located at the old Clean Green location, at the intersection of Woburn and Lakeway, across the street from the Bay View cemetery, near Whatcom Falls Park.
The site is on-tap to eventually be used for the development of permanent affordable housing in a few years. It seems fit that in the meantime it could be used for temporary, transitional housing (such as tiny homes) until it’s developed. Another advantage of this site is that it’s in a visible location, people will see it when they drive by every day. Our sites are also open to the public. People will see an example in their backyard that they can support and it will help to change the attitudes and narrative around homelessness.
When HomesNOW initially proposes a location to set up a tiny home community or tent encampment, there tends to be some push-back from the local neighborhood. This is normal because people don’t exactly know what they’re getting into or what will be set up in their backyard, and when they hear “homeless encampment” they might be thinking of unregulated tent encampments, drugs, crime, or other activities associated with unsanctioned sites. The planning department has stated that’s why our permits so far have been written in such a way that there wont be any extensions, so that push-back from the local neighborhood would be minimal. It’s the same reason given that our current site can’t be extended as well.
But in every location that we’ve set up. We’ve had members of the community and local neighborhood approach us and say that they were initially against the idea of a tiny home community in their neighborhood, but once they actually saw the model working in action, they became supporters. Whenever we set up one of our locations, crime also goes down in the surrounding neighborhood. Chief Doll has stated that in some cases crime has gone down by up to 30% in the surrounding area.
The site is an ideal location because it’s larger than the current site and less noisy. The train tends to wake people up during the night at our current location. Markis proposed that we could add two villages to that site because it’s larger. The Planning Director of Bellingham (Rick Sepler) indicated that they might be open to one (not two) on the same location, but also expressed that it wasn’t just the city’s job to work on this problem, which is true. The other entities need to step up as well.
We are thankful that the city has continued to work with us though and that we have been able to cooperate to implement some solutions. We want to maintain that relationship into the future, as well as seek out other avenues of expansion, perhaps land through a private owner or through another governing body such as the county or the port.
We also explained that it’s not just about HomesNOW either. We want this model to be available to any other nonprofit who wants to do something similar. This is about helping homeless individuals get back on their feet and get on with their lives. Anybody can do it, not just HomesNOW.
Link to the audio recording and meeting packet for the workgroup for anybody that’s got time to burn:
4. We need you at Bellingham City Council 11-18-2019 at 7PM:
We need anybody who can make it, to be at the Bellingham City Council meeting tomorrow, Monday November 18th at 7PM where we plan to formally propose the Clean Green site. The council and the administration need to hear your thoughts about wanting Unity Village to continue as well as the idea of expansion with future sites.
While permitting any future site would be handled by the executive branch (in other words, the Mayor and Planning Department), if the council voices their support for the program, it would make an impact on policy regardless. Some residents have agreed to speak about their experience at Unity Village and share their thoughts and ideas about the program.
We need our local government to see that there is strong support for this program and that the community wants it to continue.
We have a new mayor coming in soon, Seth Fleetwood. Seth had previously voiced support for an extension on our current site, and we are hoping that he will be supportive as well of allowing us to reside on the former Clean Green site next.
The fact of the matter is that the HomesNOW model and Unity Village represents the lowest cost, highest standard, and most bang for buck sheltering option in Bellingham, and Whatcom county.
If Unity Village can’t continue at our current site or can’t be moved to another site by April, then it would be a big shame because a successful and affordable model would be stopped before it could grow in the future and make a serious dent toward solving homelessness in Bellingham, Whatcom County and the nation.
Please make it if you can. Every voice counts.
Link to the Event:
5. Donations:
Winter Outreach is in full swing. We are prepared to go out there immediately as soon as the temperature drops to a dangerous level. We need donations of warm weather gear, socks, and other supplies for dealing with the cold and the rain.
During emergency weather events and generally during the cold months of winter, HomesNOW will support and be part of community efforts to transport homeless individuals to emergency shelters or the hospital as needed and will provide donations of gear, tents, sleeping bags for those out in the cold. Having a tiny home community such as Unity Village is also useful for this purpose because it acts as a hub for the general public to know where to bring donations to, at which point they can be fairly distributed to those in need. It’s always important to think outside the box and figure out ways to help while using existing resources. Using this methodology is how it’s able to be done so affordably compared to other methods.
HomesNOW is also need financial donations. We plan to do some more serious fundraising soon. While we are doing OK and can maintain stable operations, it’s a little close for comfort in case an unexpected purchase or maintenance problem pops up.
We are raising money in order to buy land or at least generate enough for a big down payment. There are multiple ways to donate. Monthly donations help us out a lot because we are able to rely on a source of income on a regular basis without having to rely on random donations (even though those are always nice too). Whether it’s $1 or $1000, it all adds up and helps us a lot to maintain current operations smoothly as well as for setting up future sites later. HomesNOW does not take any government money and so we rely on you to keep us afloat financially.
To all those who have donated to us over the years. Thank you so much, we wouldn’t be here without you. With our improved fiscal oversight we are hoping to maintain your trust and confidence in donating to us now and in the future.
Website – Donation Page:
Paypal (1 time donations and monthly donations):
Patreon (Monthly Donations):
Have a great day, see you at the city council meeting tomorrow, and good luck.
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