HomesNOW! Winter Haven Tent Community

Artist: Hilary Cole

After working on a project with HomesNOW! (Homes for the Homeless NOW, Not Later) for some time now, I’ve noticed how quickly this group of volunteers, now a 501(c)(3), is making progress on its goal of ending homelessness one person at a time, here in Bellingham.

From its tiny homes (Unity Village) vision and project to the homeless summits to the “showers now” truck to now its Winter Haven tent community, it has been, and is, unstoppable — with full speed ahead, no matter what. Quite an example of what is possible, even in these times.

Winter Haven shelters 30 people in 20 tents for 90 days. It began on January 3, 2019. This is a pilot project that has been carefully planned and organized by Jim Peterson and Doug Gustafson and an amazing core team of volunteers which is the nonprofit HomesNOW! in Bellingham. The conditions put forward by the city for this project were comprehensive, and this team, with the help of many people, businesses, churches and organizations — met them.

Jim Peterson’s Experience
Jim had been homeless for many years when a person spoke with him and asked him what it would take to get him off the streets. That person, Barbara Stanton, did have a background in social services. She understood the importance of Housing First, a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life.

Barb’s simple step-by-step approach and empathetic communication made going from homeless to housed and then to sober attainable for Jim. “It was the first time in all those years of being homeless that anyone ever asked me what I needed,” explains Jim. “Not what they thought I needed or wanted … but what I needed.”

Jim told Barb what he needed — a place to live — and she got a newspaper and let him use her phone. He had a part-time job and some housing assistance funds and was able to get an apartment, and then was able to get the counseling and medical help he needed. Providing housing first is a cost-effective and successful approach. Barb Stanton understood the importance of Housing First, and cities that follow this model, are finding that it works.

Jim went on to work as a liaison between the homeless and the Fargo, N.D., city government. He worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless, in Washington, D.C. In the early 1990s, Barb Stanton and Jim helped create the first homeless health clinic in Fargo, a clinic that is still in operation, and he worked with AmeriCorps’ Hunger in America program. Jim worked to lead National Coalition for the Homeless presentations in various cities and has helped in the creation of ten nonreligious homeless shelters. Jim is now happily married to Carol, who is a core volunteer at HomesNOW!.

HomesNOW! has inspired the donations of money, materials, labor and volunteers for Winter Haven and also clothes, supplies, food, and even showers — the “showers now” truck — to accomplish the monthly homeless summits. These projects and also Unity Village, a future possible project for tiny homes, have been in the works for over a year. I’d say they’ve accomplished a lot.

The Numbers
Maybe, you have never had to think about where you will sleep at night. But that is not the case for the more than 800 homeless people currently living in Whatcom County. Although there are several shelters, approximately half of the homeless people in Whatcom County are unsheltered on a given night. You may be shocked to find that the percentage of mentally ill is only around one-quarter of the homeless.

The numbers of people becoming homeless from soaring rents and housing costs, unexpected emergency expenses, or from losing a job are increasing now. How close are you or a friend or a loved one to homelessness?

Many homeless people are forced to illegally camp on public or private property or sleep in their cars or vans. Having a safe, warm place to sleep at night is a necessity, especially in the winter. When you don’t have a safe place to live and keep your belongings, you are forced to carry them with you at all times or risk losing everything. People experiencing homelessness face this burden on a daily basis and it can prevent them from being able to find work, get treatment for health issues and depression — which usually increase with homelessness.

The result is more expensive for the taxpayer than when the homeless are respected and these services are provided. So, when you think about it — these projects are helping ALL of us.

Finding Balance
There are so many solutions now: creative ideas and projects, organizations and communities taking full responsibility for themselves and each other. We are doing this by cooperating and collaborating in community actions, together.

We so appreciate your donated dollars, warm clothing, camping gear, food and hands-on help. You can check out our Winter Haven tent community group and our volunteers for HomesNOW! group on Facebook. Also, you can visit www.HomesNow.org to get all of the information, videos, and the event and needs sign-ups, or to register as a volunteer. We will be there with a warm welcome.

For further important details about local homelessness, we refer you to Lisa E. Papp’s excellent article “Who Are The Homeless?” at the Northwest Citizen website, https://nwcitizen.com/entry/who-are-the-homeless.

Something to note: Winter Haven is run by the residents. Volunteers and helpers are there for back up and support only. Please remember this when you visit Winter Haven and … WELCOME!

Thanks and appreciation go out to Jim Peterson, Doug Gustafson, the HomesNOW! core team and so many openhearted people of Bellingham, who have and are giving time, energy, money and expertise to help the homeless. HomesNOW! is an all-volunteer, privately funded nonprofit.

Thanks to the city of Bellingham for hosting Winter Haven behind City Hall and providing electricity, hot water, security, and other amenities to this tent community.
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Lynnette Allen went to the University of Iowa and then to Mills College. Lynnette taught physical education and modern dance and specialized in movement therapy. Later, she studied nonviolent communication. Lynnette loves to teach and write — and her favorite subject is consciousness. She’s a dedicated human rights activist, and recently she’s enjoyed volunteering with HomesNOW!.

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