PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners are looking at how the county can connect people to resources after decisions in Superior Court leave them without homes or in need of other support.
They discussed the concept of a “Superior Court navigator” during a work session Monday and decided they needed more information about what services are currently available and how big the need actually is.
Commissioner Mark Ozias said he had a conversation with Erik Rohrer, West End District Court judge and former Superior Court judge, that led to Monday’s discussion. Rohrer did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
“[Rohrer] mentioned that on some days … judges often find themselves in the position of having to make a decision that might cause someone to be evicted from their home or some other thing that would negatively impact them,” Ozias said.
“He expressed his thought that it would be nice to have some sort of structure in place to make it easier in times like that to help connect people with appropriate support or services in the community relevant to whatever their situation is.”
Tim Bruce, Department of Health and Human Services planner, said that a model to look at as the discussion continues is Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics’ ReDiscovery Program, which involves a social worker who spends time embedded with the Port Angeles Police Department and talks to people on the streets to connect them with services.
“We have to involve those that already exist in the community rather than just create a new position,” Bruce said. “We do have individuals that are familiar with many of the people in the court system that have some relationship with them or could forge those kinds of relationships.”
He said homelessness and mental health issues come at an “extreme cost” to the community and questioned whether the county can help reduce costs by connecting people with resources.
Ozias questioned whether it would make sense to work with the Homelessness Task Force and Chemical Dependency/Mental Health Advisory Board to gather ideas.
No Superior Court judges attended Monday’s work session.
Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour said Wednesday he was unaware of the idea for a Superior Court navigator and that he would not comment on an issue he has not been informed about.
Commissioner Bill Peach said that indigent defense also should be involved in the discussion.
Peach said public defenders are urging more human services to benefit their clients.
“I wonder whether or not with working the public defenders, whether there is an enhancement in the communication if you have someone trained in working with people with different types of disabilities,” Peach said.
“You almost wonder if that could be a part of what that office could charge the court.”
Clallam Public Defender Director Harry Gasnick, who did not attend the meeting Monday, said Wednesday that he would like to be a part of the conversation.
He said there is a movement toward “holistic criminal defense” in which public defenders’ offices provide or connect people to services beyond representation in the court room.
Gasnick said that there are various direct and indirect consequences people face as a result of a conviction, including losing access to public housing.
“If that is something they want to explore and incorporate services for criminal defendants, absolutely my office would like to be involved,” Gasnick said.
Ozias directed staff to collect more information before another work session discussion is scheduled.
“Let’s let the information we pull together to dictate next steps,” Ozias said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.