PORT ANGELES — Contrary to popular myth, social service agencies in other cities are not busing homeless people to the North Olympic Peninsula, a Peninsula Behavioral Health program manager said Tuesday.
Nor are homeless people moving to Port Townsend now that Serenity House of Clallam County shut down its night-by-night, family and sober shelters as of the end of June due to lack of funding, said Rebekah Miller, development director of Peninsula Behavioral Health, (PBH).
Miller told the 30 Port Angeles Business Association members at their breakfast meeting that she’s heard all about the recurrent theme that homeless people are being shipped from elsewhere to the North Olympic Peninsula.
“It’s just not a reality,” she said.
Most of the homeless are from the local area, she said. Those who do come from elsewhere “come to Port Angeles because there’s some sort of connection.”
That might include a job, a family tie, a personal history with the area, or even a rental that goes bad once they arrive.
“If we knew someone who was busing people here, we would call them and say, ‘stop busing people here,’” Miller said.
“There are not busloads of people coming to Port Angeles.
“These are our neighbors.”
Miller has heard of the same misgivings from PBH staff who have obtained jobs in other cities where residents express the same fears about their own neighboring towns.
She also cited an Aug. 3 Peninsula Daily News article in which the Olympic Community Action Programs executive director, Dale Wilson — not the same Dale Wilson who ran unsuccessfully in the primary election for Clallam County commissioner — suggested that homeless people who had been staying at shelters in Port Angeles and Kitsap, where a shelter also closed, have been coming to Port Townsend.
Wilson was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
“It is a myth, but I think every community wants to believe it so we don’t have to deal with it directly,” Miller said.
In response to a query about the business community’s responsibility in dealing with homelessness, Miller said entrepreneurs should be more compassionate to those who lack permanent shelter.
She said, for example, that it’s hard for some people living on the streets to stay sober, just as it is hard for some people living in nice houses to stay sober.
“Just be a little more tolerant and understanding of the problem,” Miller said.
“Sometimes we expect more of our homeless than we do of ourselves.
“Hopefully, you’ve got a little compassion for people.”
PBH takes part in the Projects for Assistance in Transition for Homelessness federal grant program.
The funding helps people who have serious mental issues who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with services including alcohol and drug treatment, case management and housing.
Of 1,760 active clients at PBH, at least 130 are homeless, Miller said in a later interview.
Part of the client intake process is asking individuals for their addresses, so PBH is cognizant of who is homeless and who is not.
“We are not hearing, oh, we just got dropped off,” Miller said. “There has been no evidence of a “coordinated effort” to ship the homeless here.
“People come here because they have some sort of link to Clallam County.”
Former Port Angeles Food Bank Executive Director Jessica Hernandez of Sequim said the same thing Tuesday in a later interview.
Hernandez, now the food assistance program coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture, said the same myth was circulating three years ago when she helped organize the Peninsula Food Coalition.
“We were hearing it over and over,” she said Tuesday in an interview.
Hernandez conducted an informal survey of 40 or 50 clients who identified as homeless, asking them what brought them to Port Angeles.
“We found that 100 percent of the time, they never said they had been bused over or had come from a large metropolitan area,” Hernandez said.
“It was always, I’ve always been here, my situation changed, I lost my house, I was visiting my family and my car broke down, I’m stuck here for a while,” she recalled.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].