Sequim councilor rescinds request for mobile showers in city

After discussion in December about exploring possible sites to host a mobile shower trailer for homeless individuals in Sequim, the city councilor who recommended the idea is recommending not moving the proposal forward.

Councilor Lowell Rathbun wrote in a Jan. 26 email that after hearing from city staff about possible high costs and liability issues, he is not recommending finding a site for the showers.

Sequim public works director Sarah VanAusdle sent an email to city councilors earlier this month of her findings discussing mobile shower/in-place shower options with Serenity House of Clallam County, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) and YMCA of Sequim.

At the Dec. 12 council meeting, Rathbun said a committee of nonprofit leaders were struggling to find a location for a mobile shower in the Sequim area, so he made a motion for staff to look into possible city owned properties. Suggested options included: property recently purchased just north of the Sequim Civic Center on West Spruce Street; Gerhardt Park on South Third Avenue, and the city’s former city hall annex at the northeast corner of Sequim Avenue and Spruce Street.

In her email, VanAusdle wrote the former administration building would not be suitable because of its proximity to Head Start, that Gerhardt Park would be too far away, and the lot next to the Sequim Civic Center is already being prepped for a new city parking lot.

In her analysis, VanAusdle wrote, other cities deploy mobile shower trailers at fixed encampments and service an existing need in a specific location.

“Creating a service at a venue without an existing population could result in a mobile unit searching in vain for the local demand to justify its existence,” she wrote.

VanAusdle added that it “might create a venue the City is not prepared to deal with” as it would require supervision, utilities, upkeep and other amenities.

She wrote that an alternative to explore on a trial basis would be partnering with Serenity House representatives to drive a passenger van from Sequim to Port Angeles facility’s showers and offer a bus pass back to Sequim.

Rathbun said he’s reviewed city staff’s responses carefully and that he is not going to propose other options.

“I am convinced that the city staff has done due diligence to my request to investigate this matter and I do not intend to pursue this request any further,” he said.

Rathbun said he regards city staff as “responsible and competent professionals and I respect their judgment.”

“I do not intend to propose any other options, nor do I intend to propose that the city staff look into something else,” he said.

“I personally consider this issue to be a closed matter.”

While Rathbun has rescinded his request, other city councilors could still make their own motions and requests regarding mobile showers, though none have indicated they plan to do so publicly.

Rathbun said the city council is looking to help homelessness efforts by increasing funding this year to $118,000 for the Sequim Health and Housing Collaborative (SHHC).

Agencies include Sequim Food Bank, Healthy Families of Clallam County, OlyCAP, Sequim Free Clinic (Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic), and Peninsula Behavioral Health.

“The need is great and continues to grow, exceeding their funding capabilities,” Rathbun said.

Since the initial mobile shower discussion, a few people have shared concerns in the council public comment section, in newspapers’ letters to the editor and online, that the showers could bring more homeless people to the area, increase costs to taxpayers and increase crime.

At the Jan. 23 city council meeting, Rathbun said he hears people’s concerns and that “the ultimate answer to all of this is more housing; as quickly as we can get it.”

YMCA of Sequim staff said they do not offer shower passes, but do offer facility access to anyone with a photo ID, and if they cannot afford a day use fee or monthly fee, they are able to ask for financial assistance.

Rainshadow Laundry & Car Wash, 143 N. Seventh Ave., continues to offer a pay-for-use shower at its facility 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, with a required $10 deposit and $5 for the first 15 minutes and $1 for each additional five minutes; the fees pay for use of a bathmat, towel and washcloth included. Soap and shampoo are available for a small fee.

An attendant who asked to remain anonymous said the business stopped offering free vouchers to the homeless about two years ago because they learned individuals were trading them for drugs and money.

However, the attendant said they have not had criminal issues with people using the showers.

Rainshadow co-owner Dot Flanders said she started giving shower vouchers out more than 10 years ago and she tracked who used them and how often.

Around Oct. 2021 she learned that multiple agencies were buying the vouchers and giving them out, but individuals were using them as currency and it led to people manipulating the voucher system and attempting to get refunds, she said.

“I did this to help people. I will not enable our homeless community,” Flanders said.

She said since stopping vouchers, the trash found around the laundromat has significantly decreased.

A public shower available to Sequim’s homeless was last offered in summer 2009 in the Barbara Allen Laundromat, next to a former church, Glory House Fellowship at 152 W. Cedar St., before its organizers closed it due to a lack of funds, they said, according to a Sequim Gazette June 3, 2009, article.

Editor’s note: Flanders’ comments were added after the print deadline.