By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County, presented statistics from the 2014 point-in-time homeless count at the county commissioners' work session Monday.
The one-week survey of the homeless, taken by volunteers in January, is part of a draft 2014 report card on homelessness.
“I just can't underestimate how much demand has increased because of the prolonged impacts of the recession,” Wahto told the three commissioners.
“The lack of jobs, lost jobs, even in the Sequim area, have really impacted people.”
Demand for housing assistance at resource centers in Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks spiked 50 percent from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of this year, Wahto said.
“Maybe we thought 2013 was a bad as it was going to get, but I think we're seeing 2014 is going to be a huge concern,” she added.
“And a lot of it is that bigger issue around the economy. Housing and services can only do so much if there aren't jobs for people and they can't build their household income.”
According to the countywide homeless count, there were 352 homeless or at risk of being homeless in January, including 59 who were living on the streets, in cars or in tents.
That compares to 407 homeless or at-risk people counted in January 2013, 38 of whom were unsheltered.
“The biggest problem that we see is a growth in people who are literally homeless — unsheltered, on the street, in tents, in cars,” Wahto said.
“And by far the biggest concern for us is this year is more of them were families with children. Literally homeless grew across the state, but for most communities, it was single individuals.”
After the meeting, Wahto said the growing number of homeless children is “disturbing,” and that demand for homeless services “feels like it's kind of a rising tide of a problem.”
Peninsula Housing Authority Executive Director Kay Kassinger told commissioners that demand for affordable housing continues to be a challenge.
“Our wait lists are getting longer just because of the demand,” she said.
To help meet that demand, the Peninsula Housing Authority is building 13 units of affordable housing in Gales Addition east of Port Angeles, Kassinger told commissioners.
It is also working with the North Olympic Regional Veteran's Housing Network in Forks to create four units of affordable housing for homeless veterans with families.
“Funding is always a challenge,” Kassinger said.
The Clallam County Homelessness Task Force continues to work with shelter providers to meet an ambitious 10-year goal of ending homelessness in Clallam County by 2016.
The Shelter Providers Network of Clallam County will discuss the 10-year plan as part of its 2014 planning forum Wednesday.
The public forum will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the lower level of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Lopez Ave., in Port Angeles, with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.
The forum's agenda:
■ 9:10 a.m. — Wahto and Kassinger will discuss the annual report card on homelessness and challenges to the plan for ending homelessness.
■ 10 am. — Amy Smith, executive director of the Port Townsend-based Boiler Room, will provide a keynote address on putting young lives back on track.
■ 10:40 am. — Specialty Services Director Sally Beaven, Clallam County Drug Court Coordinator Stormy Howell and Dee Dee Hansen of Peninsula Behavioral Health will discuss building capacity to address the behavioral side of homelessness.
■ 11:20 a.m. — United Way of Clallam County Executive Director Jody Moss will present legislative recognition awards and look ahead to the 2015 legislative session.
■ 11:30 a.m. — General discussion on meeting the challenges in the final years of the 10-year plan to end homelessness.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.