Amy Miller, a community change agent for the ReDiscovery program, speaks to Sequim Cares in September. She said the biggest difference people can make with the homeless is to be kind, see each person as an individual and not make prejudgments. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Amy Miller, a community change agent for the ReDiscovery program, speaks to Sequim Cares in September. She said the biggest difference people can make with the homeless is to be kind, see each person as an individual and not make prejudgments. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Creating connections for at-risk residents

Sequim Police officers and staff with the Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic look to partner again to help connect Sequim’s homeless and at-risk individuals with needed resources through the ReDiscovery program.

Started in June 2018 in Port Angeles, ReDiscovery helps Amy Miller, a community change agent, and law enforcement and/or paramedics, ally with those living on the street to help them find various services such as medical assistance.

Last year, the program operated in Sequim with a part-time staffer through a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs).

Mary Hogan, executive director for Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic, said she’s waiting on the go-ahead from her board of directors to approve the part-time position through June 2020.

She said Sequim City Council will discuss approving the position tentatively on Nov. 12.

Miller, who rides along with Sequim and Port Angeles police officers and Clallam County Sheriff deputies, spoke to the Sequim Cares group on Sept. 19 in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church about her role.

“A lot of what I do is identifying and filling gaps,” she said.

“Some of those things are tangible like helping them to get an ID so they can apply for a job,” Miller said. “Sometimes it means requesting an out-of-state birth certificate. Sometimes it’s a ride to an appointment, or a text message to remind them.”

When drug treatment is involved, she said she mostly assists people by getting them into a detox program and/or connecting them with an agency to assist with long-term treatment.

For medical treatment, Miller said, she will “send them to the places that make the most sense.”

Since the program started, Miller said she’s engaged 271 distinct individuals and about 75 percent of them were chronically homeless from the grant year July 1, 2018-May 15, 2019.

Sequim’s support

As for Sequim’s homeless population, she said the sample size so far is too small.

“When dealing with folks who have been out there a long time, their issues are long-term issues,” Miller said.

“When looking at more substance use and mental health issues, it’s a lot harder to re-house folks.

Even in the 75 percent of the chronically homeless, there are quite a few who aren’t using drugs and working on their sobriety, or have been sober for many years. It’s really hard to lump.”

Miller said she and law enforcement have taken many trips to detox and a “fair number of admissions to medication-assisted treatment” in Port Angeles.

Staff Sgt. Sean Madison with Sequim Police Department said the clinic’s part-time staffers made a checklist where people were and they’d follow-up with them about resources.

“There is sometimes a belief that there’s a bunch of people in need lining up for services,” Madison said. “Truth is, it can be a really confusing and intimidating system. The longer I’m involved, the less I realize I know about it.”

Connection

Madison said Miller is the only funded position on the peninsula helping people navigate to resources through law enforcement.

For example, he said holding identification is key for everything but if you’ve lived in a tent for six months, accessibility and funds are likely restrictive.

“Amy is able to go out and look for people; who else is doing that?” he asked.

Madison said that prior to ReDiscovery, there wasn’t a mechanism to help connect people to those services.

Miller said Sequim officers have put together an envelope with resource contacts to help guide them.

“There are things that they can do,” she said. “They’re throwing everything they’ve got at this.”

When asked why there isn’t a full-time person in Sequim, Madison said the real need is in Port Angeles.

“These people are transient, so there’s no such thing as Sequim homeless and Port Angeles homeless,” he said. “It just happens to be a bigger community there.”

Mental health

Getting people treatment is key to Miller’s work, but “keeping them stabilized is difficult” and the biggest gap in Clallam County, she said.

For people facing mental health issues, Miller said there’s not people following up with them or legal recourse for that.

“That’s our biggest gap is keeping folks stabilized because it’s very often folks don’t stay on their medications, and we have these cycles over and over again,” she said.

One way Miller has been able to aid this is bringing a paramedic with her on Wednesdays to help administer medications.

Funding

For a permanent position, Miller said one solution would be a line item with a city, its police department and/or fire department.

Miller said her position is solely funded on the nine-month cycle through the grant. She’s put in requests for rotary grants, too.

Aside from permanent funding, Miller told the Sequim Cares group that a separate fund of about $5,000 a year could help with a range of items such as birth certificates and transportation items.

Donations through local church congregations and individuals supports the Sequim Police Department’s fund for emergency situations.

Madison the policy is strict with how they can use the fund, but “if Amy calls me and said we need a birth certificate from Ohio, we’re going to figure it out.”

Miller said in her discussions, she’s met an array of people and if she can plan for their needs, like a birth certificate, then she can secure funding. But sometimes it’s simpler than that.

“I’ve met more than a handful who have been living outside for a week or so and they don’t know how to get back home,” she said. “They don’t have a phone to call their family members. That’s been a simple solution. Here’s a my phone.

“Sometimes the solutions are easy. Sometimes they’re not. But sometimes they’re unbelievable … a phone call or a bus pass back home.”

Miller said the biggest way the public can make a difference is “just by being kind, being able to see each individual as an individual and not make prejudgments.”

In the future, her goal is to establish a volunteer group, too. Those looking to support the ReDiscovery program financially or as a volunteer can call 360-457-4431 or visit www.vimoclinic.org.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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