News

Homeless numbers drop in Clallam

by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim Gazette
 

Early results show homeless numbers continue to decline countywide.

 

Serenity House of Clallam County reports the Jan. 26 Point in Time homeless count tallied about 497 homeless compared to 572 in 2011.

 

Kathy Wahto, executive director for Serenity House, said the count includes homeless people who are unsheltered (living on the streets, in cars, etc.), in homeless programs and those who are determined to be at high risk for becoming homeless.

 

One factor in the count going down could be that more than 50 new housing resources opened in Port Angeles and Forks in the past year. Also, those supported under “permanency,” housing assistance for the formerly homeless, no longer are counted as homeless.

 

Wahto said the decrease is big but the amount of people on the street went up.

 

“Usually when it goes down, it goes down in every category,” she said.

 

“One of the biggest changes from last year was the increase in those who are homeless and unsheltered.”

 

Unsheltered numbers rose from 65 to 75 people, including an increase in elderly people.

 

“I was very surprised to see several elderly people counted as unsheltered, who were on Social Security, but due to one reason or another had become homeless and were living in vehicles,” Wahto said.

 

Volunteers and staff will investigate the area, particularly in the West End, to learn more facts such as if allegedly unsheltered people live in a car or an RV.

 

“If it is a problem, then we need to build some strategies for helping seniors finding housing,” Wahto said.

A more refined figure on Clallam County’s homeless totals will come in a few weeks after the state’s evaluation, Wahto said.

 

“I don’t want people to get too hopeful,” she said. “There’s a lot more people in housing, but this is still a negative time.”

 

Sequim’s homeless population total isn’t available at this time, but Wahto said she plans to provide the numbers when available.

Sequim’s take

Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson said officers often interact with the homeless.

 

He said the unsheltered typically stay in brushy areas surrounding the town, including behind local grocery stores and near the Sequim bypass, but that they camp where it’s convenient.

 

“Sometimes we get calls about them but they aren’t doing anything illegal,” Dickinson said. “Some people are bothered by seeing them. In terms of being a real nuisance, (the unsheltered) mind themselves and we’re out here with them, and if they do anything wrong, we’ll arrest them.”

 

Complaints about panhandlers aren’t common, Dickinson said, with most panhandlers spotted on or near River Road.

 

“We don’t do anything unless they interfere with traffic,” he said. “There’s no foundation to hassle them if they are standing there with a sign that says they need food or (are) out of work. There’s nothing unlawful about that.”

 

Police do refer homeless people to Serenity House’s temporary housing services, churches, other agencies and the Clallam Transit System, Dickinson said.

 

“Serenity House keeps a full house,” Dickinson said. “If they are looking for referrals, we can certainly refer people.”

 

For more information on the Point in Time Homeless County, contact Serenity House of Clallam County, 2203 W. 18th St., Port Angeles, at 452-7224.

 

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