Since 2020, Whatcom County data has shown a doubling of people older than 60 experiencing homelessness. Seniors are also more likely to live on fixed incomes that limit their housing options, combined with chronic health conditions and associated medical bills.
One person who represents this trend is Sandy (not her real name). She is one of many individuals counted during the 2023 Point in Time Count. Sandy is an emergency shelter guest with a unique, but familiar story. After the death of her husband, she could no longer afford the cost of housing and ended up living on the streets. She spent a lot of time in hospitals both before and after becoming homeless due to ongoing health issues. It became harder for her to take care of her health challenges after she became homeless, which resulted in more hospital stays.
Sandy now stays in a continuous stay emergency shelter in Whatcom County. It’s not permanent housing, but it is a safe place where she can have her own bed and space for her stuff. People may be more familiar with the night-by-night emergency shelters that are also operated by our local nonprofits. Continuous stay facilities are another form of emergency shelter in our community. The stability of the shelter has allowed Sandy to focus on her future, keep medical appointments, complete medical procedures, and take care of her mental and emotional well-being as she prepares for long-term housing. Her medical situation is more stable now.
Even though it can be a challenge to just walk down the street, Sandy always has a smile on her face. She welcomes new shelter guests with open arms and is eager to help them settle by preparing a hot meal and providing a listening ear. The shelter has given her a support network that makes her feel valued and heard.
Sandy’s story illustrates how easy it is for someone experiencing one or more challenges to become homeless in our community, especially if they have limited support from friends and family.
The Point in Time count shows that two-thirds of unhoused people counted are like Sandy in that they are also experiencing one or more health challenges, such as a medical condition, disability, substance use disorder, or are part of a group that has been historically discriminated against.
Finding affordable housing in Whatcom County is a challenge for many people in our community. This lack of affordable housing is a significant barrier for people who also face one or more other significant health or financial issues, making those issues worse and greatly increasing the risk of homelessness. That’s why Whatcom County Health & Community Services partners with local organizations that offer a variety of housing and support services, including emergency shelter, transitional and permanent supportive housing programs, and rental assistance programs to help keep people from being evicted and becoming homeless.
For more information:
For those at risk of homelessness, resources are available to help. Households who have fallen behind on rent payments should visit the Opportunity Council Rental Assistance webpage at https://bit.ly/3RPITjv or call 360-746-3826. People experiencing homelessness should contact the Community Resource Center by calling 360-734-5121 or visiting 1111 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham for services.