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Homelessness numbers down

The goal is to provide the homeless or those at risk of homelessness with the means to help themselves.

The strategies, developed two years ago by the Shelter Providers Network to end homelessness by 2016, are working, according to officials.

“There was a 29-percent decrease in total homelessness since the 2006 Point-In-Time Count,” Serenity House director Kathy Wahto said at the 2008 Planning Forum on Homelessness March 19. “While the counts only give us an idea, the sense is numbers are declining. But remember, the 10-year plan is to end homelessness in Clallam County, not decrease it.”

In late 2005, Clallam County and the Shelter Providers Network, comprised of local service agencies, created a Homeless Task Force and a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Wahto said ongoing strategies are performing well. Homelessness prevention funds, short-term rental vouchers and rapid rehousing assistance are available to 600 households in 2008, the most to date. There are 30 new affordable units in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks, with 57 more slated, and the partnership has increased the number of crisis beds for people in an emergency.

The partnership also has planned projects to help fill service gaps, such as creating a care center for those in a substance abuse or behavioral health crisis and facilitating housing for those being released from jail.

Two panels that are researching the two plans, which are in their infancy, addressed an audience of about 90 people at the forum.



Crisis center

A crisis center, where people can go to sober up or get through a mental health crisis, could relieve pressure on emergency rooms, law enforcement and jails, but could it help with homelessness?

United Way executive director Jody Moss says yes, it can. She says giving a person a chance to get past a devastating situation without incarceration increases the likelihood of that person and family keeping their home.

Funding for the project, estimated at $700,000 a year, hasn’t been entirely lined up, but County Commissioner Steve Tharinger said money from the behavioral health sales tax could provide a foundation while grants and other funding opportunities likely would frame the operation.

“We do know the emergency room and jail are not the best places to treat nonviolent offenders with mental issues or substance abuse problems but that is where they are ending up, costing the taxpayer more,” Tharinger said. “We’re looking at whether or not a crisis center would serve that population, a group we would continue to research before instituting the plan.”

A subcommittee of the Shelter Providers Network is looking into crisis center options and will create a recommendation that will be vetted by the Homelessness Task Force before being sent to the Clallam County commissioners for action, a process likely to take at least a year.



Offender re-entry

About half the inmates who are released from prison to Clallam County don’t have a home to return to. Without a stable situation, they are more likely to become repeat offenders.

“Right now these guys are getting $40 and a requirement to check in with the Department of Corrections; other than that they are pretty much on their own,” said Jonathan Joudrey, with local nonprofit Life Force Re-entry. “We’re applying for grants to facilitate a transition with DOC, the county and the ex-offender — from incarceration to permanent housing and a better life.”

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said he believes, “If you build it, they will come,” in regard to more jails and inmates, so he is working with Life Force Re-Entry and the Department of Corrections to create a re-entry mechanism that focuses on rehabilitation, not punishment.

The process, called a community transition coordinating network by the state, hopefully will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

“Life Force would be a funnel or gate that offenders pass through on their way back out — for help on housing, employment — and we want to help build character,” Joudrey said. “For each inmate, it costs the DOC at least $30,000 a year to handle and if we can cut recidivism rates, we will save that much per each offender kept out of prison plus the costs to local law enforcement and criminal justice.”

For more information on the plan to end homelessness, visit www.serenityhouseclallam.org.



“We do know the emergency room and jail are not the best places to treat nonviolent offenders with mental issues or substance abuse problems but that is where they are ending up, costing the taxpayer more.”

— Steve Tharinger, Clallam County commissioner



A summary of the Clallam County 2005-2008 Point-In-Time Counts include:

2005 2006 2007 2008

Homeless single adults 606 571 445 354

Homeless in a family

(households) 444 (164) 484 (173) 361 (130) 367 (132) Totals 1,050 1,055 806 750

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