Hello, this is Doug from HomesNOW! Not Later.
Winter Outreach is in full swing. Over the last few nights and weeks it’s been below freezing for some of that time and wet most of the time. Luckily the cold in general over the last few weeks has been rain and snow free, but that could change at any minute.
In order to not be caught off guard this year, we’ve implemented a few systems to help coordinate Winter outreach. We have a number of Facebook chats as well as some Facebook groups that we are posting information about outreach into and provides a way for people doing outreach to coordinate. This includes mentioning people who might be in trouble and where they are located at. We don’t rely on Facebook exclusively but it is a very useful tool because many people are on it all the time, and they end up reading information that we put out there as a general outline of the situation on the ground and can respond accordingly and become more easily involved.
Here are the Facebook links for these winter outreach groups if you want to be part of doing outreach when it gets cold.
Facebook Group for Homeless Outreach:
Facebook Page for Homeless Outreach:
We also have a system that we have developed independently called “HomesNOW – Outreach Dashboard“. This is a page on our website where you can find the status of emergency shelters and submit a report if you see somebody in trouble. Right now we are just linking to the official city and county pages related to the category of shelter availability, but in the future, we will set it up to have real-time information and updates about which shelters are available and how many beds are available. Also as part of this outreach dashboard, we have a feature called “Outreach Report“, basically just a customized contact form. The purpose of the Outreach Report is that if you see somebody in trouble in the cold, you can fill out an Outreach Report, and can upload attachments as well, such as photos if the location is in a weird spot or any other useful files, these will be attached to the report and we’ll get a direct message immediately. Photos and information uploaded into our outreach dashboard will remain anonymous except those doing direct outreach.
The HomesNOW – Outreach Dashboard is accessible at:
On this page we also will have statistics such as how many outreach reports we’ve received in total, where they tend to happen on a map, and other useful information based on what happened to individuals who were approached with outreach, and what problems they ran into, overall. Using this information we can begin to build a data-set and become more efficient and strategic with outreach to make sure the maximum number of people within the homeless community survive the winter without death or injury (such as frost bite).
Alternatively, if you send an email to outreach@homesnow.org either mentioning somebody in need or offering donations, it will also get the message directly to us. This dashboard is currently one day’s worth of web development work. I have been the one building it. I need ideas though. For those of you who have been doing the outreach more than me. If you could imagine an electronic system that helps with outreach, what would that look like? I have the very basic idea of submitting a report when somebody is in trouble (just one part of an overall system), but what other features would be useful to have on such a dashboard? Please leave comments if you have any ideas.
This dashboard could be greatly improved and we can build it to be a lot better with your help, but we want it to be user friendly and easy to use. So if you have any suggestions, please share and it can probably be implemented relatively quickly.
Another resident has moved in, and another resident will be moving in, within a few days. We now have 1 tiny home that is open. Once we fill this last tiny home, we will be at full capacity, with around 20 residents. We are ready to set up new locations to house more people as soon as the city, the county, the port or any private land owner wants to let us use their land to help homeless individuals get off the streets in a cost effective way to stabilize and move on to permanent housing.
Unity Village costs around $1200/mo to operate. There are vacant lots all throughout the city and around the county. We can make a serious dent in solving this problem at minimal cost, if only there is the political will to allow us to use the land for this purpose.
Unity Village represents the best “bang for buck” sheltering option in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Not only is Unity Village and the tiny home model very cost effective, but it has good results at providing a stable and secure place for people to get back on their feet and find permanent housing.
Out of 39 people who have gone through Winter Haven/Safe Haven/Unity Village, over 30% were able to find housing.
Link to our data on people exiting Unity Village:
We are also going to be making a second dataset soon that includes just Unity Village as well, but we have not had enough residents leave yet in order to have an accurate dataset yet.
If you are a private land owner, there might be tax benefits, or a lease agreement we can agree on for a mutually beneficial arrangement in which we can take people off the streets and leave improvements or benefits on your land. If you are the city, the county, or the port, there are a lot of ways in which you can help. One thing I’ve noticed throughout many city council meetings, county council meetings, and committees is that the discussion around funding seems to be the primary agenda and comes up as a primary frame of mind in these discussions around homelessness. But one thing that’s important to realize is that it’s not just about money or funding. Yes money is needed, yes funding is needed (Including for HomesNOW), but there are certain barriers of cost at certain levels.
For example the whole project of Unity Village is estimated to be around $100,000 give or take to construct, and then $1200/mo to operate. But when you take into account something like “land cost”, the land itself might cost multiple times what the actual structures and infrastructure on-site would cost. Tiny homes can also be moved later if the situation changes, they don’t have permanent foundations. There are so many vacant lots around town, if a land owner wants to do some good, letting us set up a village on their vacant land is a very low risk option that helps alleviate the problem of homelessness in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Whether it’s HomesNOW or another group. This is a model that works to stabilize people while they look for permanent housing, it takes great strain off of the existing emergency services and has better outcomes in general, compared to taking no action if implemented.
Petition to Extend Unity Village – We Need Volunteers:
As the City of Bellingham and Planning Director, Rick Sepler has stated, the Permit to have Unity Village stay at the current location at 210 McKenzie Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225 will end April 30th, 2020. We have been told that there is no chance of an extension. The current land however is not going to be developed for at least 3 years, when the Post Point wastewater treatment plant right next door is upgraded. The lot we are currently staying at, sat vacant for years. We are going to do everything we can to try to get an extension on this site, so we can move and expand Unity Village in a smooth way.
That is why we’ve decided to try to gather signatures for a petition in favor of extending the stay of Unity Village at the current Fairhaven location as long as possible. We need anybody who’s willing to volunteer to gather signatures for this petition. We can do it together or you can do it alone, we don’t usually go door to door but we like to set up a table at various locations at certain times where it makes sense, where there might be a lot of people.
If you are interested in gathering signatures for this petition, please print out a copy of our Petition form, get signatures and get it back to us as soon as you can. Or if you want to sit down at a table with us and gather signatures as well, let us know.
A new mayor and a new council comes in January, and we want them to know that the Fairhaven neighborhood and the overall community like having us as neighbors and want Unity Village to continue, until the land is needed by the city for something. The decision on whether to extend the permit or not though is an administrative decision (in other words the Mayor and the Planning Department). Any council members speaking in support of Unity Village still helps though.
Here’s a link to a copy of the petition form:
If we could get an extension, at least until the end of summer, it would be a lot easier for us to move Unity Village to another location while the weather is still good, and buys us some more time to do a fundraiser for private land or negotiate a lease with the County, Port or Private Land Owner.
Private Land Search:
We have found around 7 sites that might be suitable for private land purchase. We don’t necessarily need to raise enough money to buy the land outright, we could just raise enough for a good down payment. We will be scoping out those sites in the next week or 2. We are also about to start a fundraiser, specifically for raising money for private land. The fundraiser will be called “Land Now, Not Later”. It will be revealed within a week.
If we get a site with the city or the county, and our private land also comes through, we will set up a second site, and keep expanding. Our short-term concern is the peace of mind of having a spot for Unity Village (either the current spot we’re on, with an extension, or another spot, for a more long-term stay).
Knowing that we have a spot will bring peace of mind to the Board, and the Residents of Unity Village because we will know that 20 people wont be sent back out onto the streets in April. Even the concern about it being a possibility raises the anxiety level a few notches. But we’ll figure it out and make it happen as we always do.
Financial Updates:
HomesNOW has implemented a new accounting system with the help of our professional accountant. We are now using the industry standard software “Quickbooks Online” for our accounting, and members of the board including the treasurer and myself have been getting trained on using it and inputting all financial data into the system properly.
Previously, we promised that financial information would be released monthly and approved by a majority of the board. Switching to a new system took a little longer than we thought, which is why we were not able to release our first financial report last month. That situation has now been resolved though, and within the next few days we will release our financial reports for October and November. From here on, it will be done monthly.
Last but not least, I want to give a big thank you to all the volunteers and members of the community who have stood with HomesNOW over the years. Without you, Unity Village and the results we’ve been able to achieve as an organization would not have been possible. There’s too many names to name, you know who you are, we love you, and thank you for the great work that you do, serving those in need.
Enjoy the rest of your day. Live Long and Prosper.
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