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Bellingham homeless camp operator accused of stealing funds to gamble and get high

The missing $8,000 could've built two additional tiny homes at the Bellingham village.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A senior leader with Bellingham's Unity Village, a temporary tiny home community for the homeless, is accused of stealing about $8,000 from the organization.

He apparently used the money to go gambling and smoke weed.

"It really ticked us off!" said resident Tina Hayes.

Hayes' anger upon hearing the news soon turned to heartbreak.

"It's such a betrayal," she said tearfully. "They portrayed to be my safety net."

The camp includes 22 tiny homes and is run by the non-profit HomesNOW.

It was co-founded two years ago by Doug Gustafson, who says a few weeks ago, he started noticing something was off with the books.

"It was like, whoa, is this real? This was not I was expecting to find," he said. 

Gustafson followed the money trail which led to the Silver Reef Casino Resort, with stops at ATMs and pot shops along the way.

The alleged thefts date back to February. 

Bellingham police have opened a criminal investigation. KING 5 is not naming the suspect because he hasn't been formally charged.

"We caught it relatively early," says Gustafson. "We should've caught it earlier, but it could've progressed to a much greater degree. I'm glad it didn't."

This year's budget for the camp was $150,000. It consisted solely of donations and maintenance fees paid by residents. 

The missing $8,000 could've built two more tiny homes.

Meantime, Tina Hayes said residents were going without some of the basics.

"We were in the middle of a ribbon-cutting here and asking people to go get us toilet paper, for Heaven's sake!"

Gustafson said steps are being taken to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

"We're gonna have two board members sign off on the bank statements every month, go through each transaction and account for it. We'll have two signers on it. That way we know we have two sets of eyes."

Gustafson said the person in question has resigned and agreed to pay the money back.

Criminal charges are still possible as the police investigation continues. 

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