Hope to halt homelessness

Regional forum focuses on collaborative approach

Regional forum on ending homelessness

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18. Registration opens at 9:30 a.m.

Where: Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Center in the Red Cedar Hall, 1033 Old Blyn Highway

Cost: free admission, open to the public.

More info: RSVPs are  requested. Call 452-7224 ext. 307 or e-mail shelterprovidersnetwork@gmail.com.



The Clallam County Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is on the cusp of its last year and there still are people without permanent housing, access to temporary shelter and some without any form of shelter at all.

That’s not to say the work done within the past 10 years has been devoid of success. Overall homelessness in Clallam County has dropped by 78 percent since 2006, from 997 individuals without permanent housing to 224, according to the 2015 Clallam County Forum Book on Homelessness.


A means to an end

To better hone and focus the effort toward ending homelessness locally, various stakeholders and involved individuals working to address the issue are set to collaborate on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the fifth annual regional forum on “Ending Homelessness Together.”

The forum is free and open to the public, Martha Ireland, Shelter Providers Network of Clallam County executive coordinator, said.

Still a week away and already nearly 80 people have responded with RSVPs.

“I think the amount of interest speaks to the importance of this topic,” Ireland said. “People are understanding this is a community issue.”

The regional forum is hosted by the Shelter Providers Network of Clallam County, a consortium of local agencies, churches and individuals that provide housing and supportive services to homeless individuals, families and at-risk households; Housing Action Plan Network of Jefferson County, Peninsula Housing Authority, Serenity House of Clallam County, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) and the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.

“We will hear from people who were formerly homeless about programs that helped them succeed and from the Commerce Housing Division on how programs to end homelessness are funded,” Ireland said.

Four panel presentations will cover: Reaching Across County Lines to Serve People in Crisis, How Tiny Houses Work to End Homelessness, Hope and Help for At-Risk and Homeless Youth and Young Adults and Empowering Our Homeless and At-Risk Neighbors for Self-Reliance.

“The goal of the forum is to coordinate the resources and services being put forth in both Clallam and Jefferson counties to end homelessness,” Ireland said.

The challenges of homelessness don’t obey county lines, so “what affects one county, affects the other,” Ireland said. Thus, having a wide understanding of the collaborative efforts being done is critical for being able to evaluate the success of the programs and services being implemented, she explained.

“The regional forum is a wonderful and energizing experience,” Viola Ware, Serenity House of Clallam County Youth/Young Adult program director, said. “You get to see all the people working on this issue.”

Ware is on the forum panel accompanied by Sequim Mayor Candace Pratt, where she plans to talk about her experience while spearheading programs through the Serenity House of Clallam County to address youth and young adult homelessness and youth at-risk.

To help a child or young adult either not be homeless or avoid becoming homeless, Ware said, a lot of her work is centered on things like increasing the employment of the younger, at-risk population.

For example, “this might be helping them earn their GED,” she said.

Pratt will supplement Ware’s input on aiding homelessness and/or at-risk youth and young adults by discussing a growing community effort to implement a Coffee Oasis in Sequim.

The Coffee Oasis is a faith-based, nonprofit organization aimed at providing community gathering places and is supported by serving self-roasted coffee from direct-trade coffee beans. The Coffee Oasis youth programs offer “friendship, belonging, resources and opportunity to homeless and street-oriented youth, ages 13-25,” according to organization officials. All proceeds from the businesses support the Oasis youth programs.

“There are at least five Coffee Oasis in Kitsap County,” Pratt said.

The Boiler Room, a coffee and tea house in Port Townsend, is independent from The Coffee Oasis, but is another nonprofit working to fulfill a similar community service.

“They’re designed to reach broken, young people, maybe struggling with addition or who are in a hopeless situation,” Pratt said. “We don’t have anything like that in Sequim and there’s a significant percent of Sequim school students couch surfing and that’s really sad.”

Pratt is the chairman of the Clallam County Homeless Task Force and is involved with the grassroots steering committee that first met in October 2014 to explore the possibility of a Coffee Oasis in Sequim.

“I recognize that there’s a stressed community of all ages here in Sequim,” she said. “Not all Coffee Oasis have housing attached, but I think we could benefit from something like that.”

Homelessness persists

The regional forum is timely, arriving only weeks after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County officials declared a state of emergency over homelessness in early November, with 3,803 unsheltered individuals documented during the county’s annual Point-in-Time count.

Data from the annual counts are coupled with information documented by the state’s homeless management information system (HMIS). HMIS is used by state and federally funded homeless and housing service providers to collect and manage data gathered during the course of providing housing assistance to people already experiencing homelessness and to households at-risk of losing their housing.

In contrast to the largely urban areas like most of King County, including cities like Seattle, Clallam County doesn’t have thousands of homeless individuals, but the same challenges exist. A total of 41 individuals were documented as being without shelter and 135 sheltered during the 2015 Clallam County Point-in-Time count.

Since 2006, the counts are conducted every January as a result of the Homeless Housing and Assistance Act signed into law in 2005 to create a coordinated state plan address homelessness.

To be classified within the “Sheltered” category does not mean those individuals are in a stable home environment, but instead relying on services, such as overnight shelters or temporary housing, Ireland said.

The number of unsheltered homeless within Clallam County has decreased by 30.5 percent since last year’s count and by an even greater 80 percent from 2006, but until homeless drops to “functional zero” county officials and residents working to end homelessness locally won’t slow their efforts.

Functional zero occurs when the availability of resources exceeds the size of the population needing the resources, or in other words, when there are fewer people coming into the system needing assistance than coming out, Ireland explained.

“We have a ways to go to reach that,” Ireland said.

As the general trend of homelessness continues to fall locally, the remaining population of homeless or at-risk are often some of the most difficult to help, Ireland said. Many of the chronically homeless have other complications beyond a lack of education, job or situational, like fleeing from domestic violence.

Instead, chronic homelessness often coincides with mental illness and/or substance abuse.

“People with other issues are much more challenging to help, but we’ve seen a lot of great successes,” Ireland said. “That to me is pay day — when you get to see someone who is a drain on themselves and society turn their life around.”

Identifying the holes

Like recognizing the challenges sometimes associated with homelessness, “identifying where all the holes are” is another goal of the regional forum, Ireland said.

Despite the wide array of public services being implemented and offered, some areas still lack all the resources and infrastructure to address the homelessness.

“There’s a need in Sequim,” Ireland said. “The St. Vincent de Paul Society associated with  St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is the only place in Sequim that answers the phone in the evening and weekends.”

Although solutions to reduce homelessness are centered on affordable, permanent housing options, Mike Flynn, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, recognizes the importance of temporary housing options for those genuinely needing emergency shelter — like situations where someone is fleeing from domestic abuse.

“We have an urgent and important need for emergency housing and services in Sequim,” he said.

Members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society work fluidly with the Sequim Housing Resource Center and Sequim Community Aid to try to address cases of homelessness in Sequim, but the society is the only option for seeking assistance late at night when the housing resource center is closed and the overnight shelters in Port Angeles are typically full, Flynn said.

“What breaks my heart is when we get a call from a homeless family needing shelter for the night,” he said.

Most of the people needing emergency shelter in Sequim are just passing through, he noted, because the local organizations are often able to collaborate to help the more stable people within the community before there’s a need for overnight or emergency housing.

“We probably get one to two calls per week,” Flynn said. “We’re happy to do it, but having a dedicated family emergency service in this community is essential.”

The need for temporary housing became more apparent in Sequim after Serenity House officials sold their 22,000-square-foot property that included a 10-unit apartment building in 2012 to the City of Sequim for the city’s civic center.

“Since it was sold, I would say the need has risen,” Flynn said.

Helping to address shelter capacity lost when the City of Sequim purchased the Horne Building, two permanent supportive housing at the SunBelt Apartments along South Fifth Avenue were acquired last year with another 14 in process, according to the 2015 Clallam County Forum Book on Homelessness. Additionally, a small cottage on the property will be used for family shelter.

Serenity House of Clallam County officials applied to the county last year for funding to support a master lease program for a duplex in Sequim, but didn’t get it, Ireland said, noting that “funding is always a challenge.”

Serenity House officials plan to apply to the county for the funding again this year. Applications are due Nov. 20.


Forum schedule

9:30 a.m. — Registration, light refreshments

10 a.m. — Welcome, forum moderator Martha Ireland (Shelter Providers Network Coordinator)

10:10 a.m. — Out of Homelessness

• Homelessness defined and update on emergency shelter facilities

• Testimonials from program participants

10:30 a.m. — How programs to end homelessness are funded: Washington State Department of Commerce

• All things housing – State and local homeless assistance and prioritizing services,

• Clallam and Jefferson results – Performance measures using HMIS data,

11:30 a.m. — Reaching across county lines to serve people in crisis with panelists:

• Kay Kassinger, executive director Peninsula Housing Authority

• Dale Wilson, executive director Olympic Community Action Program

• Cheri Tinker, executive director North Olympic Regional Veterans Housing Network

Noon – Light lunch

12:10 p.m. — New Washington Housing Finance Commission member Wendy Lawrence, executive director, Makah Housing Authority

12:20 p.m. — How “Tiny Houses” work to end homelessness with panelists:

• Joe Ingram, Veterans Homeless Services, Seattle

• Teresa Slusher, DSHS Housing Stability manager

• Lance Bailey, Port Townsend Planning director

12:50 p.m. — Hope and help for at-risk and homelessness youth and young adults with panelists:

• Viola Ware, YYA Program director, Serenity House of Clallam County

• Candace Pratt, mayor, City of Sequim and Clallam County Homelessness Task Force chairman

1:15 p.m. — Empowering our homeless and at-risk neighbors for self-reliance with panelists:

• Kim Leach, executive director, Serenity House, sponsor of Economic Opportunity Initiative

• Mike McEvoy, DVCM, Veterans Services, WorkSource Clallam & Jefferson County

• Ann Simpson, executive director, Forks Abuse Program, West End Housing Network chairman

• Jessica Simon, Consolidated Homeless Grant (CHG) Program manager

• Mary Schwartz, Data Systems and Performance manager



Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.