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Bellingham Mayor: following death at aquatic center, community expects us to provide bathrooms, showers for anyone’s use

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Yesterday, Thursday, April 6th, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood reached out via email to City of Bellingham employees after a man was found dead Wednesday in a bathroom at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, a facility operated by the city. Fleetwood said in the email, “This is another death that is likely a drug overdose — due to items found at the scene — and another sad reminder of our nation’s and our community’s growing fentanyl crisis.”

Some aquatic center customers took to social media to question the city’s decision to open the facility’s bathrooms and showers to non-customers. They cited the number of children using the facility and hazards found on the ground in other locations where the city provides similar services intended for unhoused people living in nearby encampments. Hazards identified include contaminated drug paraphernalia including hypodermic needles. Fleetwood’s email to city employees appears to address some of these concerns.

We have public bathrooms in various City facilities and members of the public are welcome to use them. The Aquatic Center provides public bathrooms and a shower program for anyone who needs them. These are the City’s humane responses to people with basic human needs in a community where there are few such services available. We are evaluating these services, especially in response to the fentanyl crisis.

Like other crises we face, Bellingham is not alone responding to the fentanyl crisis. We join hundreds of leaders in communities across the country who are affected, and we are engaged, responsive and compassionate in our efforts to attend to the realities of this crisis and the damage it is doing in our community. We are doing so as quickly as we can in the context of many pressing needs.

We pulled our team together today to continue efforts that were already underway to evaluate public bathroom and shower services the City offers, and we are considering changes. We are doing our best to balance the complexities of upholding public safety while meeting community needs and expectations.

Our community expects that we provide a safe, inclusive, comfortable way for anyone to go to the bathroom and take a shower. We’ve provided these important services at the pool for many people in recent years. How we continue to deliver these services is the important and complex question we have to answer with our various partners and our community. Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood (April 6, 2023)

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