PORT ANGELES — Jack Hopkins didn’t see this good thing coming.
An Army veteran, a former truck driver and a recovering methamphetamine addict, he was living in Forks. At 61, he couldn’t make ends meet. Hopkins loaded his belongings into a van last winter and drove to Port Angeles, where he heard about Homeless Connect, a day of services and information-sharing at the Vern Burton Community Center.
“I was really skeptical about going there,” he recalls of the March event. He went anyway.
That day, Hopkins learned of Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), which administers the Peninsula Home Fund.
The agency uses small amounts from the fund to provide a hand up to people such as he: people who desperately want to get back on their feet.
OlyCAP made it possible for Hopkins to move into his snug studio at Highland Commons, a low-income-qualified apartment building on Melody Circle near the Peninsula Golf Club.
“Right to the penny,” he said, “I had first and last month’s rent and the deposit,” by combining his meager savings with the Home Fund assistance.
Since last summer, Highland Commons has been home. It’s a peaceful place he hadn’t dared dream of.
“Everybody cares about each other here,” he said.
The last time he lived in a communal setting, Hopkins added, was during the late 1970s.
He served in the military at the U.S. Army Garrison at Mannheim, Germany, on the Rhine and Neckar rivers.
After returning home to the Pacific Northwest, he worked some four decades hauling freight: everything from timber to onions. He developed severe hip, back and sciatic pain that lingers to this day.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helped him get a hip replacement; Hopkins salutes the V.A., saying the giant department has been nothing but good to him.
He’s the first to tell you his past is littered with wreckage. Back in the ’80s, while working for his father, Hopkins started drinking heavily.
“I really wanted to be accepted by the crew, and not just the boss’ son,” he remembered.
“I worked hard and played hard” — too hard. Hopkins has been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence of alcohol, been in and out of drug rehabilitation centers, been haunted by shame about it all.
“Meth — that’s my devil,” he said.
“I walked away from a lot of good help that was offered to me.”
He is clean and sober now, attending 12-step recovery group meetings, interacting with fellow travelers at The Answer for Youth — TAFY — in Port Angeles. The resource center, which runs the Sprouting Hope nursery at 826 E. First St., is where he and others in recovery learn a new way to live.
They’re “dealing hope, not dope,” as Hopkins puts it.
He also attends Mass every week at Port Angeles’ Queen of Angels Catholic Church. Which is ironic.
“I was always the black sheep of my family,” he said. Now he’s the churchgoer.
“I love the sacraments,” he said.
They remind him of the central Christian principle of forgiveness: of others and of oneself.
“That gives me the freedom to live in today,” he said.
Hopkins still wrestles with his demons, though. He calls drug addiction a disease with no cure. Shedding his self-hatred is one of the toughest processes. Meetings and Mass help, and these days, he has growing respect for the person he sees in the mirror.
“It’s none of my business what other people think of me. It’s all my business what I think of me.”
He strives to keep busy, volunteering at TAFY and at events such as Queen of Angels’ Thanksgiving feast. Service work, he said, makes him feel more worthy of the blessings in his life.
Hopkins has a powerful influence on his environment, said Wendy Hemmert, the manager of Highland Commons.
When a reporter walked past her open office door, she called out: “Jack is an inspiration!”
The man’s upbeat demeanor is catching among his neighbors, Hemmert added. People just feel good around him.
For his part, Hopkins likes to quote a friend of his, a guy who made one resonant assertion.
“If you’re not seeing miracles every day,” this friend says, “you’re not paying attention.”
Peninsula’s safety net
The Peninsula Home Fund — a safety net for local residents when they suddenly face an emergency situation and can’t find help elsewhere — is seeking contributions for its annual holiday season fundraising campaign.
From Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to Sequim and La Push, money from the fund is used for hot meals for seniors; warm winter coats for kids; home repairs for a low-income family; needed prescription drugs; dental work; safe, drug-free temporary housing; eyeglasses — the list goes on and on.
• The average amount of help this year has been $129 per person.
• All instances of help are designed to get an individual or family through a crisis — and back on the path to self-sufficiency.
Home Fund case managers often work with each individual or family to develop a plan to become financially stable — and avoid a recurrence of the emergency that prompted aid from the fund.
As needed, Peninsula Home Fund contributions are often used in conjunction with money from churches, service clubs and other donors, enabling OlyCAP to stretch the value of the contribution.
The goal again: “a hand up, not a handout.”
• No money is deducted by the Peninsula Daily News for administration fees or any other overhead.
Every penny goes to OlyCAP.
The money goes to help the most vulnerable members of our community, from infants to families to seniors.
Please note: Because of heavy community demands, the loss of grants because of the economy and recent cuts in government funding, OlyCAP beginning in 2012 was permitted to use 10 percent — 10 cents of every dollar donated — to pay for the vital programs and services for Home Fund clients. (Previously there were no deductions.)
• All contributions are IRS tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law for the year in which the check is written.
Your personal information is kept confidential.
PDN and OlyCAP do not rent, sell, give or otherwise share your address or other information with anyone or make any other use of it.
Since its beginning in 1989, the fund has relied on the support of Jefferson and Clallam residents.
Using the $218,004 contributed to the Peninsula Home Fund in 2017, OlyCAP had helped 1,087 people from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30.
The remaining funding of f $64,611 will continue to help your friends and neighbors on the Peninsula through the middle of January — when 2018 donations will begin to offer a lifeline in 2019.
How to apply for a Home Fund grant
To apply for a Peninsula Home Fund grant, contact one of the three OlyCAP offices:
• OlyCAP’s Port Angeles office is at 228 W. First St., Suite J (Armory Square Mall); 360-452-4726. For Port Angeles- and Sequim-area residents.
• Its Port Townsend office is at 823 Commerce Loop; 360-385-2571. For Jefferson County residents.
• The Forks office is at 421 Fifth Ave.; 360-374-6193. For West End residents.
Leave a message in the voice mail box at any of the three numbers, and a Home Fund caseworker will phone you back.
To donate online by credit card, click on www.olycap.org/peninsula-home-fund.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.