Housing topic of joint meet in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — Members of the community made their feelings known during a joint meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and the Ad Hoc Committee on Housing of the Port Townsend City Council.

The commissioners and committee members continue to work on an interlocal agreement between the county, city and Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) to support affordable housing and homeless housing programs.

At the Tuesday afternoon meeting, a draft agreement was discussed for administering and dispersing funds to eligible recipient housing authorities, or nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting individuals with housing, operating an emergency shelter or securing permanent housing.

The draft agreement asks for a five-year homeless housing plan to be developed for the county. A proposed joint oversight board will be made of a representative from the city and one from the county, and a facilitator.

Much discussion centered on the composition of the board, with suggestions that it be increased in size.

No decisions were made.

A suggested task force will be made of representatives from organizations who work with housing and shelters.

The deadline for finalizing the agreements is Oct. 1.

Members of the homeless community, their advocates and other stakeholders provided the committee with insights into the homeless and housing issue.

Karma Tenzing-Wangchuk said he recently spent 17 months in the shelter, his third stay, for a total of almost two years.

Through OlyCAP, he was asked to serve on the Shelter Plus Advisory Council and was also designated as a shelter resident monitor.

“I’m interested in maintaining the shelter where it is, and I’m not happy that homeless people are not sitting at that table,” said Tenzing-Wangchuk who has found permanent housing.

“I believe homeless people have to be heard from the inception about any plans that are going to affect them. Otherwise, this is painfully short from what it should be.”

Artis, who did not provide his full name, lived outdoors for 20 years of his life, in one vehicle or another. He said he hitchhiked, lived under bridges, along rivers and on public land.

“If you can only shelter 50 people, then if there are 50 other people who can’t get into that shelter, they are not necessarily all impoverished,” Artis said. “A lot of us are vagabonds, perfectly legal. Public lands cannot outlaw those of us who are just meandering.”

John Cameron commented on how technical the conversation has become, citing the nuts and bolts of it.

“It’s crucial that you identify the people you hope to serve,” Cameron said. “Single people who are homeless. Kids who are homeless. Families that are homeless.”

In commenting about advisory boards, Margaret McGee spoke in broad terms.

“Additional members from the community that will be from providers and homeless people, I hope where you draw those people from would include the organizations like Dove House and Bayside Housing.

“Those organizations offer services during the day, case management, advocates to assist and support after they go into permanent house. The input from those people would be informative.”

Julia Cocharan said she wanted to make sure that gender parity is represented on the task force and that youth and families need to be included.

Frank Hoffman’s comment was blunt.

“Unless housing all of us, this is for naught.”

Karma Tenzing wrote poems every day when living in the shelter and shared some of them. One read:

“Upstairs in the American Legion Hall there is a band playing blues. Cover charge: twenty-five bucks.

“Down here in the basement, in the homeless shelter, men and women are living the blues. Admission: free.”

The joint city council ad hoc committee and the county commissioners have scheduled three more meetings to discuss the proposed interlocal agreements: Monday at 3 p.m.; Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.; and Sept. 24 at 3 p.m., all held at the commissioners’ chambers at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.

A decision is anticipated at the last meeting.

Public comments are welcome.

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Jefferson County editor/reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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