New leadership at Clallam’s Serenity House

After 13 years with the agency, Kathy Wahto, executive director of the Serenity House of Clallam County, has retired.

Serenity House of Clallam County

Mission: “To eliminate homelessness in our community.”

Where: 2203 W. 18th St. , Port Angeles

Phone: 452-7224

On the web: www.serenityhouseclallam.org

 

After 13 years with the agency, Kathy Wahto, executive director of the Serenity House of Clallam County, has retired.

“It was a busy day – it just flew by,” Wahto said, reminiscing on her last day at Serenity House on Dec. 19.

“It’s been such a complete change of focus, but I tend to focus on what’s in front of me so when I’m with family that’s what I’m thinking about,” Wahto said.

Wahto already has rented a small place in Bellingham to be near family and her granddaughter whose arrival is eagerly anticipated.

In preparation for her absence, Serenity House board members interviewed a number of candidates, Wahto said, but knew they had found the right person once Kim Leach, Serenity House deputy director, applied for the position.

“The board is very satisfied to have someone with lengthy experience continuing the agency’s success,” Brando Blore, board president, said. “The board was pleased to hire a local person and someone with such substantive experience with the agency and the community.”

Leach has worked for Serenity House for 11 years and feels both “positive” and “honored” to be the nonprofit’s new executive director.

During her time at Serenity House, Leach has gained ample experience and good working relationships with the variety of agencies partnering on the county’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Although the 10-year window for the plan will draw to a close at the end of 2015, Leach and others will continue their work to provide the resources and support needed to combat homelessness.

“I think Kathy Wahto has provided a wonderful structure for the Ten-Year Plan and for the agency. I think she’s been a great leader,” Leach said. “As we near the completion of the plan, we’ll be finalizing services for certain populations and narrowing our focus.”

Throughout the past nine years the plan has helped guide the ongoing data collection and development of the infrastructure needed to end homelessness, but in its last year, Leach foresees a emphasis on ensuring both emergency and permanent affordable housing options are available and services are in place to stabilize homeless individuals or those at risk sooner.

“One of the responsibilities of this position is to keep the momentum of the plan going and that’s one of the reasons I pursued the position because I knew I could do that,” Leach said.

Homeless youth or youth-at-risk of becoming homeless are a certain population Leach hopes to further focus on, she said. Early, proactive intervention and education to provide both the skills and tools to those that have potentially never experienced a stable housing environment will help get to the root of homelessness, Leach explained.

Through agency collaboration countywide and with Wahto’s leadership, within Clallam County 59 unsheltered individuals were documented as compared to 203 in 2006, according to the most recent point-in-time survey.

The annual surveys provide a trend line for Serenity House officials and primarily represents individuals outside HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) that are really the most vulnerable, Wahto said.

Overall, since the first point-in-time survey in 2003 the county has experienced about a 87-percent reduction in unsheltered individuals.

“I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot and it’s a strong time for the agency with a lot of senior staff,” Wahto said. “I am very pleased Kim will move into this position.”

While Leach continues to fight homelessness in Clallam County, Wahto will remain semi-active within the field herself and has plans to consult with Grays Harbor officials on a similar plan.

 

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.

 

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