Editor’s Note: The following letter was written to the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle by Bill Walker of Kendall. In it he asks for help for his community, which is struggling to help each other and those in dire straits. Judge this plea against the long-held rightwing contempt for safety net programs, clearly stated by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch while he rustled votes for the $1.5 trillion, 10-year deficit packing GOP tax cut plan on Dec. 1, 2017, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:
“This country is in deep debt,” Hatch said. “You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”
Dear Archbishop J. Peter Sartain,
I’m writing on behalf of my entire community up here in the foothills of Whatcom County. I live in Kendall in the Columbia Valley, and we need some help. Whatcom County seems like two worlds, the haves in the western half of the county on the coast, and those of us who feel largely forgotten in the eastern half of the county. The forgotten half has all of the same social ills as the western half with almost none of the resources needed to effectively deal with them. The western half has Lighthouse Mission the YWCA and the YMCA as well as other agencies and programs to deal with its homeless population and many other issues. The eastern half has people like me who have five people who would otherwise be homeless if I didn’t let them live rent free in my house. And this is a burden as I live off of disability and a part time job. *
And I am certainly not the only one who goes out of their way to open their homes and property to those less fortunate. Many people allow trailers on their property so others can have a somewhat decent dry warm place to call home on a temporary basis or at reduced rent. We also have car sleepers and tent campers who don’t even have the luxury of a shower or a clothes washer unless someone has a kind heart. I’m really not sure how much longer my washing machine or water heater is going to hold out.
These problems in the eastern half are the same as those found on the western half as well as pretty much everywhere else — drugs, lack of jobs, (which is even worse in our case) lack of self-esteem and violent sexual abuse, to name just a few of the many. And many of these folks don’t have a driver’s license, and some don’t even own a car. And this leaves just WTA the bus service which does serve Kendall and the Columbia Valley but nothing any farther east of us.
And yes, many of these people do receive food stamps through the federal SNAP food program but consider how hard it is without a car to take a bus to Bellingham, where the closest grocery stores to us are. (Everson is a little closer, but we don’t have direct bus service there at all.) And then you have to haul it all to a bus stop and then walk home from whereever the closest bus stop is to your home. I can attest that this is not an easy trip even for people who are fit and have lots of time. This leaves our citizens with just two mini marts fairly close by that are outrageously expensive for users of food stamps. And it’s even worse for people living east of us in Maple Falls or Glacier with no access to bus service at all. We are a small community struggling to hold our own, but consider that on the day before Thanksgiving last year, 130-plus people/families showed up at one of our local food banks, which seems like a staggering large number to me for our relatively small size, and I hope you get an idea of how truly great the need is for added services out here.
And our future doesn’t hold out a whole lot of hope or help right at the moment. The Columbia Valley is projected to eventually become Whatcom County’s eighth city, but if the county already pretty much ignores us, I don’t see where even more people up here is going to make a whole lot of difference, at least not right away.
The members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Mount Baker Highway go out of their way to help as many people up here as they can. In fact, it was one of the members who suggested writing you to inquire about getting us some help. What I’m hoping to see is perhaps a coalition of churches, agencies, and businesses and perhaps the Nooksack Tribe come together and plan for the development of a drug treatment center, which we desperately need, and maybe a low-income apartment complex as well, if possible. We also need a viable way for people who don’t have a car to find jobs and be able to get them to those jobs on a daily basis. Our biggest industry up here in the foothills is tourism, which provides very few jobs. And most of these jobs are either seasonal or do not provide a living wage. Do you have any suggestions or ideas that might help?
Thank you for reading my letter and considering our plight and my request for added services.
*Regarding the East Whatcom Regional Service Center in Kendall, I think the Opportunity Council does a very good job providing space for the food bank, AA meetings and community outreach and social needs. In my opinion, and the reason I wrote this letter, they are overwhelmed with the needs of this community, and they have stated to me that would like to do more but have limited finding which has to be stretched through the entire county.
Bill Walker has lived in the Columbia Valley since 2007 and generally works with individuals with mental health and physical issues. He is a freelance writer working on publishing his first novel about Orcas in the Pacific Northwest.
Editor’s Note: Walker sent this letter to all seven County Council members as well as County Executive Jack Louws in early March, and as of March 25, he said there had been no response. Only Archbishop Sartain of Seattle did so, and here is what he wrote: “Many thanks for your letter. I was really moved by your obvious care for the poor and those that suffer in your area and heartened by the clear way you personally act in support of them. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your letter to the leadership Catholic Community Services. We do have a few services up your way, but perhaps the specific area where you live is underserved also by us. I’m sure CCS leadership will give some serious consideration to how we might be of help to you, along with our local parishes.”