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Public safety concern at Bellingham High School homeless shelter

Bellingham High School is serving as a temporary homeless shelter while schools are closed to students. (Photo submitted by a KIRO Radio listener)

As field hospitals and temporary shelters are being built and opened, there is an increasing concern regarding a lack of security and community safety.

Dori: Hey Dow, how is this essential?

In Shoreline, public officials are saying there will be security in place to stop anyone who may still be ill from trying to walk away from the temporary hospital into the community. According to a source close to Dori Monson and the security guards, this is not true. There is not enough staff to enforce this, and the police won’t be able to do anything to stop these individuals without a warrant or law.

This happened in Kent when a patient who voluntarily went to the isolation motel, left the next morning, stole from a convenience store, and got on a bus, potentially infecting more people.

Additionally, as an exclusive on KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show, a parent at Bellingham High School and his daughter went to the school to pick up some supplies from her art teacher for at-home, distance learning projects. The dad reported that there were homeless individuals crowded together in the school common area, who had clearly been smoking, drinking, and on drugs, and were not at all following social distancing rules.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries moved an emergency center for the homeless into the high school last week, as a partnership between the mission, the school district, and Whatcom United Command while schools are closed to students, as reported by The Bellingham Herald.

“I noticed as we were driving to the school, that there was a pretty good concentration of, you know, people with bags and pretty dishevled appearance heading that direction,” the parent said.

He estimated at least a couple dozen people outside, and 80-100 inside the gymnasium area. They saw people smoking cigarettes, drinking, and vomit on the sidewalk, and one woman who appeared to be on methamphetamine. The parent said he works in community health and recognized the signs of her behavior.

“We only saw one person manning the table from Lighthouse Mission,” he said.

There was no law enforcement present.

If this is supposed to be a drug and alcohol free encampment, as the parent said it was, there’s no way this could be enforced. The mission moved here to allow for more space for social distancing, which the parent said is also not happening.

Dori then spoke with Dr. Greg Baker, superintendent of the Bellingham Public Schools.

In response to the concerns expressed by the parent, Baker started by saying he was proud of the work done in Bellingham to help those in need.

“It’s an unusual time, and so it’s unusual actions we are taking,” Baker said.

He also clarified that if students and families have to come to the schools while they’re closed to pick up materials or supplies, that they’ve been instructed to enter from the other side, not the same entrance as the shelter. Baker said that the facility is being rented out.

“The Lighthouse Mission has their staff there, the city of Bellingham is supporting them,” he said. “They have security that’s on site, they have staff there helping folks with their basic needs, with meals. … We have multiple staff from multiple agencies there supporting vulnerable folks and doing an outstanding job.”

In terms of student safety, Baker said that all students have been ordered to stay home by the governor.

“If there is a student who’s coming by to pick up, whether that’s a laptop or material, we have procedures in place that they’re coming to a different location,” Baker said. “So what was described to you is not what the process is.”

Only part of the building is being used to house people from the mission.

Baker ensured that the building will be cleaned before students and staff would return, filters would be changed, just as it happens with any rental group.

Dori’s weekly COVID wrap-up

As far as the drug use and alcohol cited by the parent, Baker referred any complaints or concerns to the Lighthouse Mission to talk about their protocols. He believes the expectation is that the inside space of the school is drug and alcohol free.

“If somebody has a concern, then they should share that with the Lighthouse Mission,” Baker said. “And they will work to address that, I’m quite certain. … I absolutely want to hear if someone has a concern and so we can address it and keep things safe, and … continue to support some of our most needy folks in our community.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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