PORT ANGELES — After spending a night at Serenity House of Clallam County’s night-by-night shelter and attempting to keep warm in below-freezing temperatures, Amy Miller and Shenna Younger have challenged City of Port Angeles officials to do the same.
“This was a real big challenge for us, so we think it would be beneficial to have the leaders in our community experience this too so they can speak from a place of true reality when they are making decisions and they are speaking to the public,” said Younger, who is the director of development and operations at Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics (VIMO).
“We hope that they’ll continue next week by challenging Sequim and the county,” she said.
Younger and Miller, who heads VIMO’s REdisCOVERY program, challenged City Manager Nathan West and City Council Member Mike French, who both said Thursday they would do the same within a week.
West and French will spend a night on the streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the things they can carry, just as Miller and Younger did Wednesday evening.
“The city is well aware we have many social challenges in our community and homelessness is a big part of that,” West said. “By taking this challenge and stepping up, it’s an incredible learning experience.”
West said the best way to work toward solutions is by experiencing what people in Port Angeles face every day.
He called the challenge intimidating, especially as temperatures have dropped below freezing in recent days, but considers it an important step for city officials to take.
“It’s important to have compassion for those already out there facing those challenges,” he said. “That perspective makes it so worthwhile. Even if it is a difficult evening it will be worth the learning experience.”
French, who is also a downtown business owner, said he is excited and nervous to spend a night at the night-by-night shelter.
“I’m excited that Shenna and Amy had this idea,” said French, who is also a VIMO board member. “They clearly have a passion for working with homeless people and all sorts of people who have fallen through the cracks.”
He said he has already been thinking about the little things that he takes for granted. He said as someone with asthma he need to be extra careful to make sure he doesn’t lose his inhaler.
“It’s a big change from my normal life,” he said. “I’m excited because I want to put my money where my mouth is.”
French said that by experiencing what homeless people in Port Angeles face every day he will be better informed on the issue. He said while much of the discussion around homelessness is often emotional, he’ll be able to speak from experience.
“I think that’s one of those areas where it’s important for us to have facts and have truths about what’s happening,” French said. “This makes sure we can speak to truth and hopefully dispel some myths.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.