Clallam County will seek a lease extension and more funding to maintain the COVID-19 Social Distancing Center into next spring.
The three commissioners agreed Monday, Oct 12, to continue to operate the isolation and quarantine facility for homeless individuals who cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distance during the coronavirus pandemic.
The temporary shelter near William R. Fairchild International Airport has been housing about 50 per night.
It will continue to operate until Serenity House of Clallam County completes an expansion of its nearby shelter in west Port Angeles, commissioners said.
“I feel very sincere that we need to provide for the homeless through the course of this winter,” commissioner Bill Peach said in a work session.
Clallam County is leasing the Port of Port Angeles-owned 1010 Building for the Social Distancing Center at a monthly rate of $15,000. That lease is set to expire Dec. 31.
“I don’t think that it’s acceptable just not having a plan, and turning people out into the cold is not an acceptable option,” commissioner Mark Ozias said.
The shelter has been averaging 50 to 55 guests daily and hosted a high of 61 last week, Deputy Health and Human Services Director Kevin LoPiccolo said.
One person tested positive for COVID-19 at the center, and nearly a dozen shelter guests and Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) employees were placed into quarantine, LoPiccolo said.
OlyCAP is staffing the facility through a contract with the county. Clallam County’s monthly cost to operate the center is $90,850, including the lease.
The county has exhausted the $433,368 grant it received from the state Department of Commerce to operate the facility early in the pandemic. The low-barrier shelter opened in April.
Clallam County received $1.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for Health and Human Services projects like the shelter. That funding must be spent by Dec. 31.
“It’s unfortunate that this $1.5 million couldn’t be extended for another five to six months,” LoPiccolo said.
“That would solve our problem. But knowing that this money needs to be spent by the end of the year, there’s no way that we can spend it.”
Commissioners agreed to advocate for an extension of the spending deadline and directed LoPiccolo to begin negotiations with the port on a month-to-month lease extension into 2021.
Chief Financial Officer Mark Lane was directed to put a “significant placeholder” in the 2021 county budget for the Social Distancing Center.
Earlier in the meeting, Lane had presented a recommended budget showing a $3.1 million deficit in the county’s $45 million general fund.
“I’m going to have to mentally prepare myself to see that budgeted deficit being back up to the $3.5 million where we started our preliminary budget,” Lane said.
LoPiccolo said another option for the county would be to rent a block of rooms at a local motel for people with COVID-19.
Commissioners opted to maintain the low-barrier Social Distancing Center, which has space for social distancing and a separate area for those who have COVID-19.
County officials are helping Serenity House apply for a $400,000 Commerce grant that would fund construction of an expanded shelter that could house about 40 with social distancing restrictions and 80 after the pandemic, LoPiccolo said. Serenity House will need a conditional-use permit from the city of Port Angeles to proceed with the expansion.
“We’re looking at maybe construction on that addition probably sometime in April 2021,” LoPiccolo said.
Clallam County will close the Social Distancing Center after the Serenity House expansion is complete.
“I think we need to be prepared to suck it up and fund this at least for the first few months of the year if we are completely unsuccessful in finding other funding sources,” Ozias said.
In related discussion Monday, commissioners vetted a proposed contract amendment with OlyCAP to increase the hourly pay for OlyCAP staffers at the Social Distancing Center.
If approved next Tuesday, the amendment would raise the total cost of staffing between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 from $175,000 to $208,000, LoPiccolo said.
OlyCAP has eight to 10 employees working at the shelter, some of whom have been subject to quarantine.
“Ideally, we would like to have anywhere between 12 and 15 that could be on the schedule,” LoPiccolo said.
“We would also like to have at least a minimum of two per shift.”
The draft agreement would raise the shelter manager’s pay from $19.54 to $23.81 per hour. The shelter supervisor’s hourly pay would increase from $18 to $19.54, and the hourly wage for shelter monitors would go from $16.04 to $17.27, according to the proposal.
“The issue is we haven’t been able to hire any new employees, so we’re hoping that increase in the pay will attract additional personnel and certainly retain the folks that we currently have there,” LoPiccolo said.
“It’s a really tough job, and they do a really good job.”