Street homeless decrease in Clallam County

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Numbers of homeless on the street and in emergency shelters continue to go down in Clallam County.


Recent data from the Point-in-Time-Count from January shows the number of homeless people on the street went down from 79 individuals and family members in 2012 to 39 this year while the number of people using emergency shelters decreased from 115 to 78.


Kathy Wahto, executive director for Serenity House of Clallam County, said she was astounded when she saw the numbers.


“We’ve never seen a drop like that,” she said. “It’s incomprehensible.”


While Clallam’s results look better than the state’s rising numbers of homeless, Wahto said, Serenity House and partner agencies’ No. 1 goal still is to reduce the number of individuals and/or families with children on the street.


Wahto said a large part of the decline comes from new housing support from the federally funded Supportive Services for Veterans, serving 88 people, and the state-funded Housing and Essential Needs subsidies for 122 adults.


“That’s 190 households getting housing assistance that weren’t two years ago,” she said.


“Plus 30 units opened in the West End and 14 in the central county opened in 2012.”


While the trend for homelessness in Clallam County seems headed toward zero, some elements of the homeless count rose, particularly the number of those at risk of homelessness — which rose from 40 in 2012 to 139 in 2013 — and people in transitional housing, up from 120 in 2012 to 150 in 2013.


The increases are likely a reporting anomaly, Wahto said.


With transitional housing, some were counted who shouldn’t have been, Wahto said, and no new transitional housing was created either, which should correlate with the decrease in emergency shelter use.


The count of those at risk of homelessness rose due to more volunteers reaching out to youth in Port Angeles and Forks, she said, because they were part of a national youth count at the same time.


Since 2006, street homelessness has been reduced by 81 percent, emergency shelter usage is down nearly 46 percent and at-risk-of-homelessness by 76 percent. Transitional housing usage has increased by 15 percent in those seven years as availability improved.


Serenity House officials reported that exactly counting the number of homeless is difficult because they use services all at different times. Their research also said that point-in-time census efforts can vary upwards of three times nationwide.


Housing Resource Center moves

This year’s count of 266 homeless people, with 139 more at risk of homelessness, occurred over a week rather than one day, which Wahto said made the process easier.


“We were able to cover places that may be only open one or two days a week like a food bank,” she said.

“This gave us more time to see if we get as many people as possible.”


In the next year, Wahto said, they’ll continue much the same efforts along with making some development moves depending on funding.


The Sequim Housing Resource Center tentatively will move in September to Serenity Square, 583 W. Washington, next to Serenity’s thrift store. The City of Sequim purchased Serenity’s  former Horn Building site for its new civic center.


The resource center also will welcome agencies like Women, Infants and Children, First Step and others to be announced. Serenity House also is financing expansion of its Sequim store for a warehouse to train people in different trades and create a recycling program for donated items.


As for the apartments used for temporary and emergency shelter, Wahto expects to have housing for those in the building now by the time they must move out.


“The biggest problem is finding emergency shelter units for the two or three we use,” she said. “Those are the only emergency shelter units in Sequim.”


Prior to acquisition of the Horn Building, Serenity House leased a one-bedroom cottage from the Peninsula Housing Authority.


Wahto said they plan to rent or lease at a location for the emergency shelter for the time being.


Possible Developments

Two developments await funding for Serenity and other agencies — SunBelt Apartments and the Great House Motel.


Pam Tietz, executive director of the Peninsula Housing Authority, said her agency has owned the affordable housing site with 17 units since 1995. Their goal is to transfer ownership to Peninsula Behavioral Mental Health and convert it to permanent housing with PBMH or Serenity House operating services onsite. This remains tentative until they can secure funding, she said.


While there isn’t funding through the state’s housing trust fund now, Wahto anticipates the project will be considered in the next biennium (July 2013-July 2015). If approved, the $1.86 million could redevelop and/or refurbish 17 units and create up to 11 new ones.


Serenity House looked into purchasing the Great House Motel and its 14 units after it went into foreclosure, but Wahto said the timing was bad with no funding available for its $600,000 price tag.


If they were to pursue it, they’d establish a trust fund, she said.


By January 2014, Wahto said they’ll know more about SunBelt’s funding but beforehand they plan to do a housing assessment in the county, which was last conducted in 2005.


The homeless benchmarks were first established January 2006 as part of a 10-year plan for zero homelessness.


Wahto said while homelessness always will exist, their goal is more about creating a better response and prevention methods.


For more information on the Sequim Housing Resource Center, 230 Cedar St., call 477-4918 or 452-7724. It’s open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays except when closed on Wednesdays.


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