4PA founder Joe DeScala, far right, speaks to a group of about 50 people during a town hall meeting, sitting with board members Justine Snook, center, and Jessica Irvine, left. (Ken Park/Peninsula Daily News)

4PA founder Joe DeScala, far right, speaks to a group of about 50 people during a town hall meeting, sitting with board members Justine Snook, center, and Jessica Irvine, left. (Ken Park/Peninsula Daily News)

4PA goals outlined at town hall meeting

PORT ANGELES — Roughly 50 people packed into a conference room at the Red Lion Hotel for what the nonprofit organization 4PA hopes to be the first of many town halls.

“The purpose of tonight is to give you information on 4PA and a chance to ask questions,” founder Joe DeScala said Thursday night.

People were invited to attend the town hall both in person and online as it was recorded on Facebook Live.

4PA, a 501(c)(3), is primarily funded through citizen donations and crowd funding. At present, it is operated only by volunteers, DeScala said.

DeScala was joined by 4PA board members Justin Snook and Jessica Irvine, but did most of the talking.

Questions from those in the audience were primarily about how they could get involved.

DeScala grew up in Port Angeles, and founded 4PA just over a year ago with the goal of cleaning up illegal dumping and homeless encampments. A second goal was the connect the homeless and unhoused with resources to get them into temporary housing and back on their feet.

“I started to notice an increase in the homeless population, specifically in areas off the beaten path where encampments were popping up,” DeScala said. “Growing up here that’s just not something I saw so it kind of raised some alarm bells.

“I began to pay more attention to it and heard about the growing homelessness issues in Seattle and Portland and at the time it didn’t seem like anything was being done to mitigate it here.”

As DeScala began to educate himself on the homelessness situation in Port Angeles he came to a few conclusions: that there were people trying to tackle the issues but they needed help and the accumulation of areas needing to be cleaned up was outpacing the clean up efforts to an unmanageable level.

“It’s one thing to clean up, but what we need to do is get people off the street and the problem is there’s not a lot of places for people to go. There’s a monumental gap between a tent on the street and any kind of stable housing in our community,” DeScala said.

One of the cleanup endeavors, which took several weeks, involved a man who had been camping near Peabody Creek, The man was employed and had recently been promoted and saved enough money to afford a place to live. He worked with 4PA to clean up the area where he had camped and even helped during other cleanups, DeScala said.

Over the last 14 months, 4PA has picked up over 90,000 pounds of trash, and over 10,000 used needles from public spaces with help from over 100 volunteers, DeScala said.

“We would like to expand into individual neighborhoods, with volunteers as neighborhood captains spearheading the cleanup efforts,” DeScala said.

Some of the recent cleanup areas have been at the waterfront, in downtown Port Angeles and Peabody Creek.

DeScala highlighted some lessons that 4PA has learned.

“It is critical that we identify and developed appropriate locations for our unsheltered/unhoused population,” DeScala said.

Port Angeles currently only has one overnight shelter, which is run by Serenity House, and which may not be suitable for all people who are homeless.

“That’s one of the biggest hurdles 4PA is facing,” DeScala said.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Homelessness has a lot of faces. Loss and trauma are contributors, substance and drug abuse, mental illness are all factors. Folks in each of these categories need different places to go,” he said.

“4PA is focusing on one facet of this, but there are other agencies that can focus on the other facets.”

One of the things 4PA is working towards is developing temporary shelters and a tiny home village. The organization is currently seeking land for development, DeScala said.

Once it does acquire some land for development, it hopes to work with locals to manage the facilities and generate growth opportunities for residents such as work and volunteer positions.

“The village would have individual units that are safe and secure, allowing folks to get out of the elements and to lock up their things,” DeScala said.

“These places are managed by codes of conduct,” he continued. “There are jobs that people can do to keep the place nice and develop a sense of pride in integrating back into the community.”

In addition to temporary shelter, DeScala also called on the public to reach out to local legislators to change recent laws regarding simple drug possession.

“Legislation needs to shift back in favor of allowing police to enforce narcotic possession,” DeScala said.

The comment received a round of applause from the public in attendance at the Red Lion.

In 2021 in a case now known as the Blake Decision, the state Supreme Court struck down the laws against simple drug possession, calling them unconstitutional.

“When you talk to our police officers, there is a level of frustration that they can’t do the things that they used to when it comes to drug possession,” DeScala said.

”It’s a contributing factor in what we’re seeing going on in relation to drug abuse and homelessness.”

For more about 4PA, see https://www.4pa.org/.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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