PORT TOWNSEND — The Boiler Room has closed while its leadership considers how to continue providing services.
For the past 25 years, The Boiler Room has been a place for area youth and community members to gather and participate in educational and social programs, or a place to just hang out and be with friends.
Increased use by the homeless has led to declining use by its target clientele of young people. Fewer teens are interested in working there, leading to staffing shortages. That and the organization’s financial difficulties have led to the The Boiler Room winding down its day-to-day coffeehouse operation for the immediate future and left its management to determine ways to provide the same services, perhaps under a different model, according to Executive Director Amy Howard.
A sign saying The Boiler Room is closed has been up since Monday.
Boiler Room alumni and all those interested from the community are invited to a “listening event” hosted by the board from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the coffee shop’s 711 Water St., location to discuss the fate of the organization.
Howard hopes to solicit input on issues that have put the organization in jeopardy. The board will take the comments and hold a few more community meetings before making a final decision.
“No decisions have been made yet because we want whatever happens to be driven by community input,” Howard said.
“I strongly believe that The Boiler Room doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the community.”
Howard, who has been in her position for 6 1/2 years, said The Boiler Room is serving two disparate populations and the staff doesn’t have adequate training to handle the changes.
“We have always been a place for all ages, but we are primarily youth-centric,” she explained. “Our core population is early teens to late 20s. Now we have a second generation of Boiler Room volunteers and we continue to focus on making this a safe place for youth.”
She said that a growing homeless population is staying for extended periods of time at the coffeehouse and that this has changed the coffeehouse’s culture. That has led to a decline in use.
“The homeless population has grown significantly and it is no fault of their own,” Howard said. “We have always been a welcoming place. We’re located two blocks from the shelter.
“But there is no day shelter in Port Townsend, and this group has nowhere to go. They stay here or at the library. These are the two places they can come for free and hang out.”
She said The Boiler Room can’t accommodate their needs.
“My dream is to see two organizations: one is youth-led and informed by what they want to experience. We currently use the Generation X coffee house model and that is no longer appropriate.
“And there is a clear need for a day shelter. The two populations are very different.”
Over the last few years, the organization has experienced financial difficulties, she said.
Raising money has been competitive and difficult. Grants have not come through. Costs have risen. Howard said these issues have placed The Boiler Room in a struggling financial situation that needs immediate attention.
The Boiler Room has a mortgage on its building purchased 12 years ago. Howard said debts are “less than what we have in assets.” If the board decides to sell the building, the organization will be able to be debt-free, she pointed out.
Another change for The Boiler Room is coming soon as well. Because of health reasons, Howard is leaving her paid position at the end of October. She still wants to be involved with the organization and may join the board of directors after a break.
Board President David Faber expressed optimism in a letter sent to the community this week.
“The fact that The Boiler Room can be made solvent will hopefully mean that The Boiler Room will return with renewed energy, leadership, and community engagement,” he said.
”The Boiler Room has been here before on more than one occasion in its 25-year history. In fact, The Boiler Room has been in worse places before.
“It just took the love of our community recognizing the value of The Boiler Room to bring it back from the brink of extinction when we were last here more than 10 years ago,” Faber continued.
”And if the needs are still here — which I cannot believe they are not — and if the community will rise to the challenge, then this does not need to be the end of The Boiler Room.”
Both Howard and Faber also are members of the Port Townsend City Council.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or a [email protected]