Harm reduction center to move

Clallam County has approved a five-year lease for a building in the downtown area that will house the Harm Reduction Health Center, with plans to open the facility on Second Street on July 1.

Clallam County commissioners voted 2-0 on June 20 to approve the lease agreement with William Clevenger and John Gray for a property at 325½ W. Second St., the former site of CrossFit ThunderRidge.

The action provides a larger space — 5,000 square feet — for the Harm Reduction Health Center (HRHC) now operated by the Health & Human Services Department at 111 E. Third St., said Kevin LoPiccolo, director of the county HHS.

The center provides education, supportive services, health services, supply distribution, syringe services and disposal.

It also will house the HRHC mobile van and store other HHS items that are now stored at the Fairchild International Airport.

County HHS hopes to open the building on July 1 following some remodeling.

Harm reduction centers emphasize engaging directly with people who are struggling through drug addiction to help prevent overdose and the spread of infectious disease or improve physical, mental, and social well-being.

It also offers low-barrier options for accessing health care services, including substance use and mental health disorder treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The lease, which was proposed to county commissioners in March, is that HHS will pay $3,500 per month in rent until Dec. 1, 2025, and $4,000 a month thereafter.

“From my perspective and from the HHS perspective, our goal is to be a good neighbor and to make sure that wherever we site these services we are respectful of adjoining uses and adjoining property owners,” said commissioner Mark Ozias, who voted in favor of the lease along with commissioner Mike French.

“I support this and I support people in their journey toward sobriety,” Ozias said. “We understand our services impact neighborhoods, and we try to do our best to lessen those impacts.”

Commissioner Randy Johnson abstained from the vote due to a personal relationship with the owners of the property.

Ozias said he knew the county health department had a number of conversations with business owners and others downtown.

“I don’t know that we have done sufficient outreach yet,” Ozias said. “I think we have a lot more work to do to communicate to the community what harm reduction is and what’s going to happen at the HRHC and what’s not going to happen.”

LoPiccolo said he recognized similar facilities the county has built or purchased had raised concerns in the neighborhoods in which they were located and that efforts had been made to talk with specific businesses about the relocation of the HRHC to this downtown location.

“I’m doing my best in terms of outreach,” LoPiccolo said. “It’s not as though we’re on a campaign advertising what we’re doing. I just want to make sure people are comfortable with the direction that we’re moving in.”

On June 21, Commissioner Steve Burke of the Port of Port Angeles, which has offices near the Second Street site, asked what a harm reduction center is, while a representative of the Field Arts & Events Hall at Oak and Front streets had not heard about it.

The owners of Country Aire, which is on First and Oak, with Second Street running behind the building, could not be reached for comment.

Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce said on June 21: “I heard about the Harm Reduction Center from the county yesterday.

“Thus far, no business owners have expressed any concerns to me about it,” he added.

The project is funded through the Foundational Public Health fund that the state Legislature has poured money into over the years, Ozias said.

“There has been an increased focus on public health and what public health should look like,” he said.

“The state Legislature for the past few years has been funding what they call ‘foundational public health,’ which in essence is a suite of services that all public health services should be able to provide consistently across the state. So that’s where the funding for this expansion is coming from,” Ozias said.

LoPiccolo said Tuesday that, in communities where there were concerns with the siting of a harm reduction center, the people most worried ended up becoming the biggest advocates for the program.

“I certainly think that’s going to be the case here,” LoPiccolo said.