A disabled veteran, an abused spouse, a young couple and countless others have found solace at Laraine Claire’s house on the corner of Spruce Street and Fourth Avenue in recent years.
“It wasn’t something I ever put an ad in the paper for,” Claire, 57, said. “People always came to me saying, ‘I need a place to live.’”
As she’s met and housed people from various walks of life, Claire saw her own daughter Brooke struggle with addiction. This led Claire to take custody of her then 1-year-old grandson Isaac. Claire said seeing her daughter and others in Sequim struggle with addiction helped her become more sympathetic to people with opioid addictions.
About a year ago, Claire remembers distinctly praying and asking God what to do.
“I asked, ‘What do you want?’ There are a lot of other mothers out there who are suffering with their children and their addictions,” she said.
Claire began talking to various partners about opening her home in a more official capacity, which led to the recent partnership with the new nonprofit organization ORCA, Our Resilient Community Alliance.
“They strongly presented that they take people who have fallen through the cracks,” Claire said.
What is ORCA?
ORCA’s emphasis, says Executive Director Manny Aybar, is to support women and families, specifically single mothers with children and single grandmothers and their grandchildren.
“For us, families take all kinds of permutations,” he said.
“We’ll provide services and a home to individuals experiencing homelessness, crisis or trauma. That’s a pretty big umbrella because that’s where the need is in the community.”
Aybar said many local and national social services “tend to paint these services in very big broad strokes.”
“From what we’ve seen with where the need exists, there’s a dovetail of services,” he said.
“When you’re working with an individual who has an addiction, and is involved in the judicial system, and has homelessness issues and may or may not have substance abuse, it’s when all of those come together. We want to be that net that catches these people and moves these people to the next phase.”
ORCA’s services in Claire’s home, called Summit House, include traditional housing and “wrap-around services,” such as access to counseling, basic job training, budget training and more.
“It does us no good to say at two years you got to go and they have no basic skills to sustain them,” Aybar said.
Each individual or family will be responsible for a part of their costs based on ability to pay with an estimated cost to ORCA for housing, food, transportation and services at about $1,500 per month per family.
Claire said she chose ORCA because they’re an organization open to anyone and based on faith principles and run by a faith-based team.
ORCA leaders, including Aybar and Hailey McLaughlin, director of operations, anticipate providing full, cohesive support care at any time to at least three or four families.
Aybar said that support could go up to two years but they could transition sooner as they’re ready for success with necessary skills, such as budgeting and food prep.
“Things like that may seem simple to us, but for someone coming into self-responsibility, this can be very daunting,” Aybar said.
Those living in Summit House are expected to either work a part-time or full-time job, or volunteer at least 10 hours if they are disabled or unable to work due to criminal history. ORCA staff plan to develop two retail micro-businesses for residents if they cannot work in traditional means.
Aybar said their residents who have experienced crisis and trauma generally have behavioral issues, felonies and/or other challenges.
He said Summit House will be their home with responsibilities and ORCA staff will ask questions of them like “where do you see yourself in two years?”
“That’s why we think our model is a little different — it cuts away at the bureaucracy and that is what is lacking in this field,” Aybar said.
ORCA staff also will help residents ready to transition themselves to a new home by helping them fill out needed paperwork and meet with landlords.
McLaughlin said with low unemployment rates and a positive economy, landlords can be pickier and that even people without felonies or addictions can be overlooked for a job or housing.
According to their handout, ORCA. staff plan to begin operations this summer.
Aybar said a majority of their start-up costs came from Clallam County residents, and staff consider it a Sequim-based operation.
For now, Aybar and McLaughlin say they are working without pay and intend to hire more positions in the coming months, including a house manager, case manager, peer and family advocate and a business manager.
McLaughlin said they intend to be as transparent as possible with plans for periodic audits, to release IRS statements online, and the ability to show where specific donations go.
In the next three to four years, ORCA staff plan to raise about $350,000 to sustain operations, including salaries, rents, food, transportation and more.
They’ve been in touch with groups like Sequim Cares and Aybar said they will look to partner with individual churches to potentially sponsor individual family’s costs.
“Sequim is a beautiful community and has shown a great sense of generosity,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us to be as transparent as possible. We anticipate being here for a long time and the only way to do that is to be as transparent as possible.”
As for long-term plans, ORCA may look to do a facility for seniors, and another for youths, such as for LGBTQI+ individuals.
Aybar said they envision branching into Clallam County more but not until they partner with entities like the City of Sequim and community groups like Sequim Cares.
‘Don’t Have To Say You’re Sorry’
In order for Claire’s home to be ready for incoming families, she’ll partner with Sequim Beautiful Day volunteers on Saturday, April 27, to paint and repair certain parts of the inside of the home.
Last summer, Claire partnered with the City of Sequim and Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County for their Sequim Service Fest to help revitalize the outside of her home.
Back then, she said “God has a plan for this house.”
Since she’s owned the house, it’s served as a home for her children including her two sons Wesley and Keaton Stromberg, singer-songwriters for the band Emblem3.
Wesley released the song “Don’t Have To Say You’re Sorry” last October and it even features Brooke speaking about her struggle with addiction.
Claire said she supports ORCA because it’ll help people like Brooke beyond the original recovery program and not “slip through the cracks.”
For more information on ORCA, Our Resilient Community Alliance, visit www.OlympicORCA.org, reach it at 360-605-0723 or Manny Ayabr at Manny@olympicorca.org or Hailey McLaughlin at HR@olympicorca.org.
To learn more about volunteering with Sequim Beautiful Day, visit https://sequimbeautifulday.org/.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.