Rud Browne makes case for additional $64,000 for 2019 and 2020

WHATCOM — Of all the important causes County Council member Rud Browne has seen in his career in private and public sectors, giving to the Access ID Project would have the most bang for its buck, he said.

“I cannot think of anything that offers a better return on investment than this program,” Browne said.

He made his case during the council finance and administration meeting of Oct. 23. He is pushing for the county to approve an additional $14,000 for 2019 (on top of $36,000 already approved) and $50,000 for 2020.

Already the Access ID Project — in existence since 2010 — has helped 1,200 homeless and low-income individuals in the process of obtaining state-issued ID. The volunteer-backed LAW Advocates program is offered twice a month at the Bellingham library.

“Staff here realized one of the problems we were seeing over and over again with clients coming to us is a lack of government ID,” said Michael Heatherly, executive director of LAW Advocates, a volunteer lawyer program for Whatcom County. “Nowadays … you have to have government ID to do just about anything. You need it to open a bank account, stay in a hotel, apply for a job.”

The program has remained at a small scale over the last eight years. Additional money would help the program expand beyond the twice-a-month level. And it would be used to cover fees (about $50 to $200) associated with obtaining proper identification documents. Those who cannot afford the cost now are expected to get help from other organizations or borrow it. Sometimes they don’t return to complete the process.

“The idea would be … no one has to pay out of pocket and it would all be covered by the program,” Heatherly said.

Funding could also help in expanding outreach. Heatherly estimates that twice as many people could be helped by the program. “It might be even more than that,” he said. “We won’t really know because it hasn’t been done before.”

The program, an important cause for Browne, came to his attention during spring 2017. He was attending a meeting of Northwest Youth Services, a nonprofit that serves at-risk, runaway and homeless youth. At the tail end of the meeting, it was asked if anyone could help in providing low-barrier employment for homeless youth.

Browne felt he had developed enough of a positive relationship with much of the county’s agricultural community that he could help by reaching out to farmers. “I got a heart-warming response from the Whatcom County ag community who both wanted to help the kids and wanted the labor,” Browne said.

One thing stood in the way, however. The potential farm employers required applicants to have a photo ID and a Social Security number, in order to meet requirements of E-Verify — a web-based program that allows employers to determine U.S. work eligibility.

“To which my response was, ‘These are American kids. It’s not going to be a problem,’” Browne said. He was later told, by many of those who work in the field every day, that an estimated half of homeless youth (up to age 25) lack proper identification and have little or no ability to obtain it.

Reasons are: some have fled their homes, sometimes to escape family violence or drug abuse, without their identification; some living on the street have had all of their possessions stolen, including important documents.

“Even if they have ID, because they’re homeless they carry everything with them. And they’re likely to be victims of theft … and when that person takes that purse or wallet, they take their identification with them,” Browne said. And it is surprisingly difficult to establish who you are if every piece of ID is taken, he added.

That’s when, after some research, he found the Access ID Project.

The County Council will be voting in coming weeks to either reject or approve the program’s expanded funding.

Action taken

• The County Council voted 6-0, with Barry Buchanan excused, to approve the county executive’s acceptance of a $280,125 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The money will go toward part of an estimated $373,500 cost of funding a new saltwater patrol vessel for Whatcom County. A required local match of 25 percent ($93,375) will come from vessel registration fees.

The Sheriff’s Office has four maritime vessels, but none that are suitable for year-round sea use, county documents state.

“The proposed vessel is designed for the purpose of enhancing our maritime domain awareness and for detection of radiological, chemical and nuclear devices in the waterways of Whatcom County,” the agenda bill states.

Steve Harris, of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, spoke in favor during open comment. He was surprised, however, that he hadn’t heard much council talk on the involvement of Homeland Security in arrests.

“The one thing I didn’t hear you guys mention, which is interesting in the environment that we live in today, is the aspect that anytime we make a custody arrest, they’re in Homeland Security custody with us there, under their control and transportation,” Harris said. “In this environment I thought it was interesting that nobody seemed to have this concern.”

He asked that the council consider using local dollars for custody control over prisoners.

• The council approved changing the name Creasy Road of Custer to Creasey Road. In 2017, county documents state, Jeff Creasey approached Engineering Services Division about the name change. He said the road name was incorrect. The department discovered this to be true, after conducting a investigation into the road’s history.

The road will revert back to its name of origin to honor Jeff Creasey’s grandfather, William Ralph Creasey, who immigrated from England.