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Where are the homeless?
Last year, 598 homeless individuals were identified in the Clallam County point-in-time count of the homeless. Volunteers take the annual count this year starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, with local information reported to the Serenity House Human Resource Center, 203 N. Sequim Ave., Sequim.
The count enables local agencies to find not-yet-identified homeless and at-risk people and provide them with needed housing resources.
Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House and a board member of the Clallam County Homelessness Task Force, said the count has been gradually increasing in Sequim.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the need is growing. It just means we are becoming more aware of people,” Wahto said.
Wahto said Sequim’s homeless population live in different ways:
The literal homeless live on the street, in a car or tent and have lost a permanent inhabitable house.
People at risk of homelessness have lost housing but live with family or friends.
Some homeless people have been released from hospitals, mental hospitals, prison and other institutions.
Others are young single-parent families, whose breadwinners have low job skills and need to pay for child care with inadequate earnings, Wahto said. “You definitely have young families, even two-parent-income families, struggling to eke out a living.”
Pam Tietz, chairman of the Homelessness Task Force, said the perception of homeless people is the same across the county. “The general public has a picture in their head of what a homeless person looks like.
It’s usually inaccurate, she said.
“(Homeless people) are usually invisible. Living in cars. Sleeping in woods. It’s generally less acceptable (to be homeless) than in an urban area where people see it everywhere.”
Wahto said people think about what’s immediate to them and that doesn’t always include the homeless.
“It’s not that people are not compassionate,” Wahto said. “We all get busy with our lives. It’s our job to keep it as a constant focus.”
In 2005, Clallam County and the Shelter Providers Network created a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the county. Between 2006-2010, the number of homeless individuals counted went from 1,055 to 598, a 43-percent decrease.
“When we say we want to end homelessness, we know people will continue to go into crisis but we want to respond adequately with resources and aid,” Wahto said.
She attributes the decline in homelessness to the plan’s strategies and to agencies working together to find solutions.
Tietz said local agencies have made a commitment and effort to come together to help those in need.
“You can’t help people solve whatever issues they are having if they don’t have a roof over their heads.”
Tietz, also executive director for Housing Authority of the County of Clallam, manages 500 units across the county, with most tenants earning less than 30 percent of the area median income. The housing authority currently assists 79 households in Sequim with $35,908 a month, paying portions of rent to private landlords.
Tenants sometimes must wait two to three years before receiving assistance through the housing choice voucher program. The waiting list opened February 2009 and received 400 applications in five days.
“If anybody doubts the need for affordable housing in Sequim, when Elk Creek apartments opened with 108 units of affordable housing they leased all the apartments in 90 days,” Tietz said. “This is unheard of.”
Because people are looking for homes, Wahto asks property owners with vacancies to contact Serenity House or the housing authority at 452-7631 or firstname.lastname@example.org,
What to do
Serenity House, which leads the homeless count, intends to report the totals by early February. The Shelter Providers Network is hosting a pre-count informational session at 9 a.m. today, Jan. 19, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Lopez St., Port Angeles.
Wahto encourages people to report any information about the location of homeless people to Serenity House prior to the Thursday count.
The Clallam County Homeless Task Force also is looking for sponsors and volunteers for the second Clallam County Project Homeless Connect on March 17 in Port Angeles.
For more information, contact Jill Dole, prevention specialist, at 565-2608 or email@example.com.