Large Bellingham homeless encampment cleared after property owner settles lawsuit

The large homeless encampment at 4049 Deemer Road behind WinCo in north Bellingham was cleared Tuesday after the city settled a lawsuit against the property owner.

The city of Bellingham filed the lawsuit in Whatcom County Superior Court on Nov. 22 against Erwin Rommel for not cleaning up the encampment and for causing a public nuisance.

About 40-60 homeless people are believed to have been living on the property since last fall.

As part of the settlement, the property owner agreed to pay to begin clearing and cleaning the property before May 12. As of Tuesday, around 8 a.m., all individuals had been cleared from the property by police and cleanup efforts had begun, according to Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy

Outreach attempts and offers of services were made to people living illegally on the property ahead of the clearing, according to Murphy. Only a few individuals accepted outreach services, she said.

“It’s really sad when people reach out and the services are declined,” Murphy said.

Bellingham is suing a property owner it says is causing a public nuisance by not removing an encampment of unhoused people on Deemer Road.
Bellingham is suing a property owner it says is causing a public nuisance by not removing an encampment of unhoused people on Deemer Road.

Mark Stidham, with Serenity Outreach Services in Bellingham, visited the Deemer Road property Monday and Tuesday “to help his long-time friends and clients — people who’ve lived in Whatcom County for many years — and the same faces we see bounced around from location to location,” Stidham said.

Stidham said services offered to people being cleared from encampments are often not encompassing enough to keep individuals out of homelessness.

“People need to have a complete support network when they’re post-treatment to help them back on their feet,” Stidham said.

Timeline of recent events

April 21: A settlement is reached in the civil lawsuit filed by the city against the property owner.

May 4: Notices were hung on the entrances and exits to the property as well as on each structure and tent within the encampment notifying people about the pending property clearing.

May 5: Outreach services were offered to the individuals at the encampment.

May 6-7: People interested in services were able to begin accepting them.

May 8: Individuals at the encampment were required by law to leave the property by 8 a.m., though no police came to make sure homeless people there complied with the order. Outreach services were once again offered.

May 9: Police arrived on the property at 7 a.m. and began clearing individuals out. Privately hired construction workers began cleaning the property.

Police remained on scene for several hours after the encampment was cleared to make sure no one returned, and to ensure the safety of the construction workers hired to clean the property.

Stidham said most of the people leaving the Deemer Road encampment will just relocate to other properties within the city.

No arrests were made in the process of clearing the property, Murphy said.