PORT TOWNSEND — Beds at the Jefferson County Winter Shelter are filling up and it’s only been open since November.
“Most of our  built-in beds are full,” said deForest Walker, executive director of the Community Outreach Association Shelter Team (COAST). “We try to make room, but at the same time we have occupancy limitations we have to be mindful of.”
Since the shelter opened Nov. 1, it has had more than 600 bed nights and served 44 individuals, 12 of whom were veterans, nine women and nine seniors.
COAST has partnered with Olympic Community Action Programs for 13 years now in operating the shelter in the basement of American Legion Post No. 26’s building at 209 Monroe St.
The shelter opens its doors at 4 p.m. each day. All guests must leave by 8 a.m. the following morning. Volunteers provide three meals each day.
Walker said she knows from experience that as it gets colder, the number of people needing shelter will only go up.
She said the demand typically peaks when it snows.
“In a pinch we could probably put four more people in here on cots, but that may not be sufficient,” she said.
The shelter will be available through March 31.
This year staff are asking those who use the shelter to provide some form of identification, said Kathy Morgan, housing director for OlyCAP.
She said it is likely this change that has led to more locals using the shelter and fewer police calls.
As of Thursday there hadn’t been any calls for police, she said. In the same time period last year she said there were nearly 60 calls.
“In the last three years people would come in, give a fake name, and they didn’t have to fill anything out,” Morgan said. “This year we’re being a little more mindful.”
She said it is still a low-barrier shelter and that staff will help those who don’t have identification.
“A lot of people who lived here locally would not seek shelter because they didn’t feel safe,” she said. “We’re at capacity and it’s a lot of local people.”
Walker doesn’t believe the shelter is the answer to solving homelessness in Jefferson County, but said it is necessary.
“It feels good to be able to do something, but I won’t be satisfied until we are able to put all of our community members in housing,” she said. “Affordable housing is the cure for homelessness, it’s as simple as that.”
She said it’s unsatisfactory that “so many” community members are in need of housing. She said the shelter isn’t able to help families with children and that there are still people who sleep in cars or in the woods.
“What we know is that our shelter is not even adequate to meet the needs of everyone who needs shelter in our community,” she said. “It’s just really hard.”
Walker said what makes the shelter possible is the volunteers. COAST is an inter-faith organization that partners with faith-based groups and others to staff the shelter.
A different organization provides volunteers each week. By the end of each season upward of 500 people have volunteered at the shelter.
The provide clients with meals and do what they can to make sure everyone is comfortable, Walker said.
“They are making sure that everyone is comfortable … and that everyone is following the rules,” she said. “They are keeping people safe and warm and making sure they have their needs met.”
Among the volunteers is the Rev. Skip Cadorette of First Baptist Church of Port Townsend. The church had 25 to 30 volunteers helping out at the shelter over the last week. Cadorette said he tried to volunteer at the shelter at least a couple times each week.
“You get to know people, get to know their circumstances and you get to know that you’ve got good people who are struggling through life who don’t have a place to live,” Cadorette said. “That’s a heart-breaking thing.”
He said the church looks for ways to take care of people who aren’t as well off as its members.
“I’d like to wave a magic wand and make housing available for everyone, but I can’t do that,” he said.
“But I can do this and make sure these 28 people have a comfortable evening and a good meal.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].