PORT ANGELES — Doug Platten crosses himself, in-the-name-of-the-father-son-holy spirit way. But for this lapsed Catholic, it’s a gesture not so much of religiosity as of humility. He’s recalling the moment when he, a man who had earned his living for a good four decades, had to ask for some help.
Platten, 59, worked construction in California; he was a high-voltage cable splicer on big projects. Twentieth Century Fox Studios, Kaiser Permanente and the Cars Land adventure park at Disneyland were a few of his job sites.
He was, as Platten says, part of a generation of men who made their living with their backs.
The work wrought havoc on Platten’s body. By his late 50s, he suffered pain that gnawed like an intense toothache in his shoulders.
He sought Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, and began a years-long battle for the benefits. At the same time, he had some investments and the hope for a small union pension.
While Platten wasn’t at the official retirement age of 62, he knew it was time.
He had a dream to pursue, too. He found his dream boat online: a 40-foot mahogany and oak Kettenburg sailboat. In summer 2014, he left California to live his dream aboard the boat, which happened to be moored at Port Angeles.
“It’s a classic,” Platten said of his 1961 vessel, which he is rechristening Remy, after his first grandchild, a baby girl born this year to his son and daughter-in-law in California.
After arriving in Port Angeles and becoming a live-aboard resident, he found the community suited him well.
“I’ve seen a lot of the country,” said Platten, a native of Bound Brook, N.J., who has since lived in Southern California and in Park City, Utah, among other places.
“I fell in love with it,” he said of Port Angeles. So as he relocated, he continued the SSDI process and picked up some odd jobs.
But it wasn’t enough. Then a $20,000 investment went south. By June of this year, Platten got behind in rent, and then behind some more. The Port of Port Angeles was about to start the eviction process.
“I was pulling my hair out,” he remembers.
Platten found his way to Olympic Community Action Programs, administrator of the Peninsula Home Fund.
He applied for assistance and received the maximum benefit — $350 — which enabled him to get back on track. He and the port worked out a payment plan.
Then, in July, his SSDI benefits came through.
“We all try our best, but there comes a point” when a man has to ask for a hand, Platten said. And this is what the Peninsula Home Fund does: offers a hand up to people who are struggling to stay afloat.
Shortly after he received his Home Fund grant, Platten’s SSDI check arrived. At last, Platten was receiving his hard-earned benefits, for which he worked 38 years.
One of the first things Platten did after getting the check was pay a visit to OlyCAP.
He presented the agency with $700.
“It’s well-deserved,” he said.
Platten felt his new community supported him, via the Peninsula Home Fund and other agencies such as the Port Angeles Food Bank.
Platten is still awaiting his union disability pension. As his financial situation improves — and he is optimistic that it will — he wants to continue making donations to OlyCAP.
“I want to keep the money here in the community,” he said.
The help he got — just a few hundred dollars — makes a tremendous difference in a human being’s life, Platten emphasizes.
He sees that Port Angeles has its problems. He lost a sister to heroin addiction, and his heart goes out to those who struggle with drugs. He wants to be involved with the groups battling this, such as the Port Angeles Citizen Action Network, or PA CAN.
Laura Calabria, the OlyCAP client services specialist who worked with Platten, fondly recalled their interactions.
“It was extremely satisfying to see the client give back to the community,” she said, “because that is what OlyCAP is all about.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Angeles.