Western Students Engage with Issues Surrounding Homelessness in Bellingham

by Paul Cocke, Office of Communications and Marketing
  • Three women stand in front of building and tree, smiling.
    WWU students Bailey Duran, left, and Taylor Heidt, right, are working on a class project with Woodring's Trula Nicholas, center, to address the complex local issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing.

Western students are actively engaged with the local community to address the complex issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing.

Students in a Woodring College of Education Human Services class compiled a resource manual for schools in Bellingham; developed a report and presentation to Bellingham City Council; and worked to address the 2020 census undercounting marginalized populations.

“I really love partnerships, bringing together students and community groups to address an issue,” said Trula Nicholas, associate professor in Woodring College’s Human Service Program who taught the class.

The resource manual for the Bellingham School District includes detailed resources in the community, including up-to-date information about services available to children and families in Whatcom County, including resources such as food programs, clothing, housing and shelter, and medical care. A secondary purpose was for the students to conduct a gap analysis of the services needed in order for children and families to thrive.

As part of the project, students reviewed all existing resource manuals that are currently available in organizations throughout the county. Whenever possible, they collaborated with other organizations and agencies to update their resource listings.

Students also conducted interviews and surveys with school district teachers and staff to assess what local services were available and what resources were needed for homeless students and their families.

The manual was produced in hard-copy format, and also was uploaded to thumb drives so that counselors, staff and students at the Bellingham School District as well as students, faculty and staff in Western’s Human Services program have access to an electronic version.

This may be the beginning of a larger project that provides a regularly updated resource manual to all nonprofits, schools and government organizations in Whatcom County, Professor Nicolas said.

Another project, Innovative Solutions to End Homelessness, resulted in a formal report and presentation to Bellingham City Council members and the mayor of Bellingham on the community incentives and evidence-based approaches to supporting affordable housing and efforts to address the homeless crisis.

For their presentation, students looked at tax credits and utility discount incentives employed by other communities to encourage stakeholders to deprofitize a portion of their rental market for affordable housing opportunities. Students conducted research on national and global agencies that have implemented innovative ways of addressing sheltering options for their low-income and homeless populations.

Students took into consideration what it would look like to implement a similar approach with local demographics.

The goal of the 2020 Census: Solutions Workshop was to develop and implement census solutions workshops for college students.

Underpinning the project was the fact that the 2020 census is underfunded and this puts at risk millions of federal and local state funds that rely on census data for allocation. This also could affect voting districts and representation in government. There is great concern that marginalized populations will be undercounted and so there will be less funding for services and representation, which could have implications for the next 10 years until the next census.

Students found a wide variety of sources that provided information about the history of the U.S. census; analyzed the history of the U.S. census through a social justice lens, and became familiar with current issues surrounding the 2020 census by reviewing a wide variety of sources.

Following their research, the students worked with the Opportunity Council to develop a short video that will explain the census to college students. Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5JBrI939BM

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Monday, May 6, 2019 - 12:16pm