Protesters break into city hall over homeless encampment

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Protesters and advocates for dozens of people living in a temporary tent encampment on the lawn of Bellingham City Hall on Friday created a human barrier and some later broke into the building in an effort to stop city officials from trying to clean up the site.

The city notified campers earlier this week that the encampment needed to move a short distance away from City Hall for fire and other safety reasons, The Bellingham Herald reported. People have been living there since November to protest the lack of shelter in the area.

Mayor Seth Fleetwood was escorted out of the building Friday when protesters broke a lock at City Hall, KIRO-TV reported. Fleetwood said he wasn't certain if protestors caused any damage, other than a broken lock.

Several protesters held signs saying, “Do not sweep” and “Provide an actual solution for the homeless.”

Journalists with The Bellingham Herald left the area after a confrontation with protesters who had asked the journalists not to film or document the protest on public property.

In a statement Fleetwood said the city seeks a peaceful end to the encampment.

“Circumstances at City Hall and the Library lawn are entirely untenable, escalated largely by protesters and outside agitators who are not residents of the encampment. Their actions are a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness and putting them at increased risk,” Fleetwood said.

Eve Smason-Marcus, a Whatcom Human Rights Task Force board member and volunteer with the camp, said the encampment has had roughly 90 to 120 campers per night, with others coming daily to get supplies and food.

After negotiating with city officials, Smason-Marcus said the city was unwilling to meet their demands for 100 housing units, such as tiny homes, and said the city offered 25.

Fleetwood said the city offered to provide funding an additional winter shelter option and in collaboration with the Port of Bellingham and Whatcom County, offered a site and additional tiny homes. Advocates, volunteers and city officials met more than 10 times, including on Thursday, Fleetwood said.

“We will continue our collaboration with Whatcom County officials and service providers on short- and long-term solutions to providing safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness,” Fleetwood said.