PORT TOWNSEND — The Summer Shelter at the American Legion Hall has been at capacity since opening in May and has seen a change in the population the program serves.
Dale Wilson, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) executive director, said the shelter has been operating smoothly.
“Overall, the shelter has been running well,” Wilson said. “We have an increased capacity over last year.”
But, according to Kathy Morgan, OlyCAP housing and community development director, not only have the numbers increased, but the population the shelter serves has changed significantly.
“We’ve been at capacity all summer,” Morgan noted. “We have 16 females, and 51 men; 14 are veterans and 12 are seniors over 65. We served a 92-year old man.”
Morgan said the increase in the senior population was a surprise.
“We have four people with walkers, one with a catheter, and two on breathing machines.”
Morgan was struck by the number of senior women who are using the shelter.
“This is totally unacceptable. I’ve never seen it like this. It’s a change from last season.” Morgan said. “We are creating a safe place for people. But this is the highest population over 65 with medical needs we’ve seen.”
“Our monitors are now caretakers,” she said.
“We have an aging population here in this county and hopefully this is not a trend. There needs to be a broader response to this issue. If this trend continues, as a community we need to have a serious discussion”
Morgan said most of the guests at the summer shelter are from Jefferson County, with some from Kitsap and Clallam counties. Statistically, at of the end of August, there have been 684 bed nights, averaging 2,337 people.
The good news is that OlyCAP has been able to find jobs for eight people and permanent housing for 10 guests.
OlyCAP reconfigured the shelter space to accommodate more women, adding 16 beds for females by taking over the TV room and office as sleeping quarters. There is a discussion about turning the shelter into a a daytime resource center with access to computers for job searches. There is also discussion about creating a daytime warming shelter in Port Hadlock.
At this time, there is no shelter space for young adults.
“Youth have a specific criteria and cannot be mixed in with adults,” Wilson said. “Their needs are radically different. We don’t have good data on youth.”
Wilson said this issue is something that needs to be addressed and the state will be driving a major funding initiative to help with the increased need in Washington communities.
The Jefferson County commissioners approved on Monday a $75,000 expenditure to OlyCAP to fund the summer shelter. The money will be used as compensation for work performed, services rendered and for all materials, supplies, equipment and incidentals. The shelter will close Oct. 31.
Jefferson County, the city of Port Townsend and OlyCAP entered into an interlocal agreement in 2005 designating OlyCAP as the administering agency to utilize revenues to assist homeless programs and facilities to serve incorporated and unincorporated Jefferson county.
Commissioner Kathleen Kler believes the summer shelter is an important part of the community services local government provides.
“The county recognizes the importance of providing services and are grateful to OlyCAP for continuing to help the homeless after the winter shelter closed,” she said.
“The summer shelter has proven to be essential for the health and safety of everyone in the community. I’m glad we are able to be part of this important community service.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]