Peninsula women help homeless during winter storm

While a winter storm whipped through Clallam County and Western Washington, two local women were determined to help individuals out in the cold.

Shenna Younger and Amy Miller helped more than a dozen people in Sequim and Port Angeles find temporary shelter during freezing temperatures from Feb. 8-12.

Miller runs the REdisCOVERY Program for Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics (VIMO) and Younger serves as VIMO’s director of Development and Operations.

After the two women took on a homeless challenge staying in Serenity House of Clallam County’s night-by-night shelter in Port Angeles in December, they have been working with local law enforcement over the last week to get individuals living in tents, cars, or on the streets into hotels or in touch with the right services during recent snow storms.

“It’s been really worth while to have the (REdisCOVERY) program for this type of a crisis,” Younger said.

“It also provides dedicated time for officers to be more proactive instead of reactive. It’s an awesome partnership to help people.”

Through VIMO’s REdisCOVERY program, the women have housed nine people in hotels in Port Angeles and five in Sequim, while helping handfuls of others get in touch with needed services, such as medical care.

With snow accumulations of several feet in some areas of Sequim and Port Angeles over the last week, it was important for Younger and Miller to find shelter for as many individuals as possible.

Younger said she found two elderly women living out of their cars in Sequim during the storm and was able to get them into a hotel for one week.

“Those are folks that are adverse to the shelters for any reason,” Younger said. “We do have some folks out there not ready to be housed.”

Younger and Miller went to homeless camps, parking lots, and areas in Port Angeles and Sequim where they knew many homeless individuals live while being escorted by local law enforcement.

“I have a good idea of where people are,” Younger said.

“The Sequim Police Department has been incredible and willing to do whatever we need to do.”

On, off the streets

Younger and Miller also have made food runs to local hotels and low-income housing areas, have directed some individuals to the Sequim Community Warming Center and Sequim Transit Center, and also passed out hand-warmers in their communities.

Local food banks also donated food to the women to make food runs, and law enforcement was paid for their service through a grant VIMO received for its program and covers overtime and dedicated time spent with the two women.

On Tuesday morning — repeating a pattern of previous days since the latest winter storm hit — Younger and Staff Sgt. Sean Madison made rounds across Sequim, checking on those they’ve helped find warm environs rather than battling out the cold temperatures in their cars.

“This has really developed a (new) relationship between the police and the homeless,” Younger said, checking in on the Sequim Transit Center. While the room — stocked with food, blankets and clothing — had just a couple of people by late Tuesday morning, Madison said it was well used on Monday.

It cost more than $3,000 to house individuals in hotels over the last week, Younger said, but with some donations from anonymous donors in the community it’s paid for hotel expenses.

“We have some really generous community members,” Younger said.

She said one anonymous donor in Sequim has given about $1,500 worth of hotel stays since the storm blew in.

Nancy Merrigan, general manager of the Sequim Quality Inn, said her company was happy to help.

“It’s only right to try to help out,” Merrigan said.

“We started out with just one (guest), and ended up with a couple more. They’ve been good guests.”

Younger said she and Miller will continue to check on the individuals housed in hotels over the last week and those that needed other services.

“We’re going every day and checking on folks in the hotels, and each have their own unique challenges,” Younger said. “It’s daily check-ins to make sure they’re doing okay.”

The women hope to have more permanent plans in place for those who will leave the hotel after their one-week stay.

“It’s finding the invisible homeless (that’s the issue),” Younger said, noting they found and helped a 74-year-old Sequim woman found living in her car.

“We are trying to find folks looking for a hand up and help them get back on their feet,” she said.

Younger said she will also look at what worked well and what didn’t for her organization and others that reach out to the area’s homeless.

She also said she hopes VIMO can continue to receive grant funding to keep programs such as this one going to help more people in the future.

“The more we can make people aware of this program and get our grants renewed we can keep it going,” Younger said.

Sequim Gazette editor Michael Dashiell contributed to this story.

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