Housing and Homeless Services Program

Latest News:
09/01/20: Health Department and Opportunity Council Release Point In Time Count Report Summary to Media

You can read the summary here.



8/6/20: ​New Funding to Support Rent and Mortgage Payments Now Available in Whatcom County

The Whatcom County Health Department is working with local partners to implement two new housing assistance programs funded by the CARES Act that will provide over $3,300,000 for Whatcom County households that have been financially impacted by COVID-19. The health department expects that approximately 200 households earning between 50% and 80% of the area median income will be served with the CARES Housing Assistance funding, which will be available until the end of October, or until funds are exhausted, and significantly more households will benefit from the CARES Eviction Rent Assistance Program (ERAP), which will be available until the end of the year, or until funds are exhausted.

The first program, CARES Housing Assistance, will spend approximately $700,000 of federal CARES funding to support local households that lost income due to COVID-19 and are behind on housing payments or lack the resources to pay current rent or mortgage payments. Whatcom County residents earning 50-80% of the area median income are encouraged to apply. In addition to meeting the income requirements, eligible households must have experienced income loss due to COVID-19, lack resources to pay their rent or mortgage, hold the lease or mortgage contract for their home, and not be receiving other funding intended for the same purpose.


Households in the 50-80% AMI range who are seeking assistance through the CARES Housing Assistance program are encouraged to contact the Opportunity Council at 360-734-5121 x316, LAW Advocates at 360-671-6079 x14, or the Salvation Army at 360-733-1410 to make an appointment to verify eligibility and complete an application.

A second, larger pool of funding will also be made available to Whatcom households earning less than 50% of the area median household ($2,492/month for one person or $3,554 for a family of four). This funding is provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce and is called the Eviction Rent Assistance Program (ERAP). The ERAP program will distribute approximately $2,689,000 and will be available until the end of the year or until funds are exhausted.

Both programs will issue checks directly to landlords or mortgage lenders on behalf of residents after collecting the necessary documents that verify eligibility. Households eligible for ERAP funding will have earned 50% AMI or less over the previous two months and should contact the Opportunity Council at 360-734-5121 x316 to schedule an appointment to verify eligibility and complete an application.


About The Whatcom County Health Department Housing And Homeless Services Program



Stable housing is the foundation upon which people build and improve their lives.

The Human Services Housing Program provides opportunities in the community to create safe housing options. Together with public and private partners and with Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness, we work to reduce and ultimately end homelessness in our community.

The Housing Program manages state and federal contracts and local recording surcharge funds designated for affordable and homeless housing.  Our office does not provide direct housing assistance or services, however, we maintain a strong relationship with local providers within Whatcom County.

If you are currently experiencing homelessness, or if you encounter someone in a homeless camp who might need help or resources, please call the Opportunity Council's Homeless Outreach Team at 360-312-3717.
  

Services


The work of the Housing Program:
 
  • Facilitates community-wide planning, participates in regional planning
  • Awards funds to organizations that directly assist people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with housing and services
  • Updates and oversees implementation of the Plan to End Homelessness
  • Conducts annual Point in Time Count of homeless people
  • Acts as liaison to Department of Commerce's Housing Assistance Unit
  • Represents the community as HUD's Continuum of Care lead
  • Provides housing and service related advocacy on behalf of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness

2020 Point In Time Count Report

Opportunity Council, in partnership with Whatcom County Health Department, recently published their 2020 Point in Time (PIT) Homeless Count Report. The report represents a snapshot of persons experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County based on a survey conducted at the end of January, before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt locally. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that this count occur on one night every year, in every county.  In Whatcom County, this effort represents coordination of many volunteers, housing providers, and administrative staff.

At first glance, it appears that the numbers haven’t changed much from last year, but Teri Bryant, Director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center at Opportunity Council, says that this may be misleading. “It’s important to remember that these 700 or so individuals are not necessarily the same individuals that were counted last January.”  In fact, of the 555 households counted in January 2020, only 14% were also counted the year before. Since the 2019 count, more than 2,221 individuals have been re-housed or received assistance from the network of partners that provide services through the Whatcom County Coordinated Entry System. Were it not for this support, many of these individuals would likely have become homeless. “Our community has made deep investments in housing for those who need it. Without these investments,

the situation would be far worse today,” Bryant said. “It is imperative to preserve services in order to maintain and promote household stability.”

Other trends of note include a decrease in unsheltered households potentially linked to an increase in emergency beds over time: this inventory has grown from 348 beds in 2012 to 853 beds in 2020. This represents beds added by Lighthouse Mission Ministries as well as temporary winter shelters, shelters for special populations as well as emergency motel shelter for homeless families with children.  At the same time racial inequities continue to negatively affect persons of color as well.  “These disparities must be addressed moving forward,” responded Barbara Johnson-Vinna, Housing Specialist at Whatcom County Health Department.  Staff training for racial equity in homeless services, and revising policies and processes to be more equitable for all served, are just two examples of how we will increase equity in our homeless response system.  Johnson-Vinna also noted that substance use disorders and mental health remain prominent and reminds readers that “these are not conditions that fundamentally lead to homelessness.  For some, simply being housed leads to increased stability.”  Poverty remains the single biggest driver of homelessness.

Preventing families from becoming homeless is the ideal solution, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “Households do not need to wait for the eviction moratorium to end before seeking assistance,” said Teri Bryant.  Households behind in rent because of COVID-19 related income disruption can be screened for assistance at Opportunity Council, Salvation Army, and Law Advocates.  Because the PIT count was conducted before local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to predict how this health crisis will affect homelessness in the future. “Let us not forget,” added Teri Bryant, “that homelessness alone is a health crisis: being homeless increases risk of premature death. COVID-19 has great potential to exacerbate the crisis that already existed.” In addition to those who were counted, hundreds more are known to be at risk of losing their homes and becoming homeless in Whatcom County.  The PIT count represents a snapshot in time and it is understood that it does not capture those who are cycling in and out of homelessness over the year, nor is it possible to capture everyone who is in need of shelter. Although the reasons people become homeless may be complex, the answer to homelessness is fundamental:  housing. Interested parties can access the Point in Time Homeless Count Report at https://bit.ly/34bOc6F. 



Performance Measures

 
Contracted housing partners receiving Consolidated Homeless Grant (CHG) funding through Whatcom County Health Department. Please access updated CHG Mandatory Performance Measures from the Washington State Department of Commerce specific to Whatcom County using the link below:

CHG Performance Measures (Whatcom County)

Department of Commerce Housing Website

Whatcom County Case Management Report Template

Whatcom County Emeregency Shelter and Transitional Housing Report Template

Whatcom County Permanent Supportive Housing Report Template

 

Housing Resources


If you're looking for a place to rent, click HERE for a list of local housing to try.  If you are at risk of becoming homeless, please contact the Whatcom Homeless Service Center as soon as possible to learn more about available resources.

Documents and Partners

Local Plan to End Homelessness


 City of Bellingham Housing and Human Services

 https://www.cob.org/services/housing


 Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services

http://www.dvsas.org 


Northwest Youth Services

http://www.nwys.org/


Whatcom Homeless Service Center

https://www.oppco.org/whsc/