I understand that the Bellingham City Council is considering increasing sanctions for sitting and lying on sidewalks, having open containers, and being intoxicated in the downtown area. I understand the idea is to jail these people by making civil infractions into misdemeanors. I also understand that temporarily jailing mentally ill, alcoholic, and homeless people does not decrease alcoholism, mental illness, or homelessness. When they are released, they will still be alcoholic, mentally ill, and/or homeless. Also, I am concerned that the program seeks arbitrary enforcement against people whose appearance does not fit the downtown aesthetic (i.e., classism).
At the same time, Whatcom County residents are considering a tax increase to build a larger “right sized” jail. Please consider the relationship between these two measures: If you build, they will come. No, that’s not quite right – if you send them, we will have to build – that’s it.
The current question is what should a compassionate and frugal city do with its poor and marginalized residents – help bring them into the fold, or push them away and pressure them to move down the road a bit, maybe towards Maritime Park? Please remember that both of these options have costs. Let’s seriously consider which one will be less costly in the long term.
Edward S. Alexander