This is Doug from HomesNOW. It’s been an eventful week for HomesNOW. One of our current residents has found housing. We are going to help move her stuff to her new place over the next few days. The City of Bellingham has recently cleared us to start letting in new residents. We now have 3 new residents at Unity Village.
As part of the City of Bellingham’s permit requirements, we have found a case worker. Sandra Felix, care coordinator for Sunrise Services. Sandra has years of experience helping homeless individuals to find housing and mental health services in both Whatcom and Skagit county. She will make a great addition to the team. We are not stopping there though.
Whether you are a qualified case manager, mental health professional or an advocate for those in need, if you are involved or want to be involved in similar work and would like to be part of the movement to help residents and other members of the homeless community get the care and services they need, we welcome you to be part of the solution.
Last Tuesday, November 5th, we had a meeting with the residents and we all went over the rules and code of conduct for Unity Village. Residents were encouraged to propose changes or additions to the policy, which was done. We still have a few additions and changes to work out at our Sunday meeting. These rules and policies will also be periodically updated by the residents themselves with the support of HomesNOW to reflect the needs of the Unity Village community.
HomesNOW encourages the model of self-governance. Using this model makes the job of the staff and volunteers easier as well as prepares residents for permanent housing where they will have to self-govern. It also provides a significant morale boost because you wont feel like other people are controlling you, and you’ll have a stake in the outcome.
In the spirit of self-governance the Board of HomesNOW has also encouraged residents to have their own meetings as well without a HomesNOW staff or board member having to be present for the meeting, so they can work out their own issues and come up with their own solutions. Of course as part of the city’s requirements, a HomesNOW staff member must be on-site 24/7, and that will not change, but meetings conducted privately by the residents themselves is always encouraged.
One thing the residents have expressed that they are in need of right now is bus passes. If you are willing to sponsor a bus pass for residents, or are willing to give rides from time to time, it would be greatly appreciated. If you are willing to sponsor a bus pass, please get in touch with us and we’ll make the arrangements.
On the financial side, we have a professional accountant and bookkeeper, Tina Moon of MT Shoebox helping us to get our financial policies and accounting in order. New financial controls, as already described are currently in place and we’re doing what we can to track down any and all receipts and records we have to fill the gaps.
Here’s a link to her website:
A plea for receipts. If HomesNOW ever reimbursed you in cash and you still have the receipts to any of those purchases, please get them to us as soon as you can. We are trying to fill any gaps or money that was unaccounted for.
Last week we released some rough policies regarding financial controls and sexual harassment. These policies will be added to our new HomesNOW Volunteer, Board and Staff code of conduct. Until this point we have not had a code of conduct for volunteers, staff or members of the board. HomesNOW is a little over 2 years old, we were moving fast and sort of flying by the seat of our pants, doing the work with boots on the ground. It has mostly been ok, but at this stage of development and expansion we need detailed polices for HomesNOW to reflect the values of the organization as a whole.
The mission of HomesNOW is very simple, to end homelessness one person at a time. Each person has different needs and different reasons for why they ended up in the position they’re in. An individualized approach is also needed in order to get people into housing. With rents rising fast and wages or benefits being flat, some people are just in a financial rough spot, and that’s how they became homeless. Others have had injuries or medical problems to where they lost their job or lost their home and ended up on the street. Some people need intensive case management, some need help with addiction and mental health issues. Others are escaping domestic violence.
What does “one person at a time” mean in practice? What does it look like? It looks like winter outreach, getting people who are out on the streets out of the cold weather and into an emergency shelter. It looks like the homeless summits, where we give out free gear, tents, clothing as donations from the community become available. It looks like a tiny home community, a place where people can transition into permanent housing. It looks like your traditional low income apartment. It looks like a permanent secular shelter. There’s not just one solution to this problem, but it all adds up.
If we all work together and we are serious about finding solutions to problems and making progress, then you’d be surprised at just how quickly a problem can be solved that seems impossible.
As it stands, Unity Village is a prototype that represents the most effective, least expensive, and most self-empowering sheltering option in Bellingham. The whole village (after the cost of building the structures) costs around $1200/mo to operate. Half of that cost is just the porta-potties. This model can be easily replicated at other locations. Our main challenge from day one has always been land. Finding a square of land that’s at least 1/4 of an acre (preferably more) with electricity and water (sewer is preferred but not needed) that’s on a bus line, hopefully within the city limits. If the city or the county or any private individual would let us lease some of their land, we can build more villages and make a serious dent in resolving the problem of homelessness in Whatcom County.
Some volunteer opportunities are coming up. For anybody who’s been down to Unity Village and thinks that it’s beneficial to the community, we need you to let the city know how you feel. Any positive letters or emails expressing your support of Unity Village will go a long way toward helping this model expand.
Currently HomesNOW is looking for another site to move Unity Village to. Our permit and contract with the City of Bellingham expires at the end of April. Seth Fleetwood came down a week or 2 before he was elected mayor and expressed support for the project and was open to the idea of an extension on the current site located at 210 McKenzie Avenue, Bellingham WA 98225.
One might ask why we’re trying to get an extension on the current site. April is very close and the weather during that time is not great for moving everything. Even an extension until the end of summer would help a lot. The land that we’re sitting on is also not going to be developed for 3-5 years (with the expansion of the Post Point wastewater treatment plant next door).
We need volunteers who are willing to get a petition together in Fairhaven to show the city that the local community supports Unity Village and wants it to continue. Anybody who wants to help lead that effort, we welcome any help you can provide.
A big thank you to all the volunteers, residents and supporters for standing with HomesNOW over the 2 years we’ve been around. The future of HomesNOW looks bright and we hope to make rapid progress. Don’t take my word for it though, just wait and see or be part of it.
Have a great day, and good luck.
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