PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners have agreed to seek an extended lease with the Port of Port Angeles for the continued operation of a social-distancing homeless shelter.
The county’s four-month lease for the 1010 building near William R. Fairchild International Airport is set to expire at the end of this month.
The social-distancing shelter, which is housing about 50 clients and has a separate isolation area for those who have symptoms of COVID-19, is being staffed with assistance from Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP).
“It makes sense to sit down with the Port and with OlyCAP and with other partners to discuss an extension of that lease at a minimum through the end of October,” Commissioner Mark Ozias said in a Monday work session.
“Ideally, it would be important to understand their willingness to extend into at least the end of the first quarter and potentially the end of the second quarter of next year.”
On a separate track, commissioners directed staff to study the feasibility of operating a social-distancing center in the nearby Clallam County Fairgrounds.
The existing shelter in the 1010 building houses both individuals who cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distance and those who have COVID-19 symptoms.
“The ideal for me would be a long-term sheltering option that is actually somewhat separate from our isolation and quarantine facility,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
While no residents of the social-distancing center had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, people in quarantine at the facility were being tested, Unthank said in a text message.
“I actually think it’s worth exploring the fairgrounds,” Unthank told commissioners Monday.
“It’s got some complexities around security, but actually having separate buildings would actually be better for infection control.
“It may not be where we go,” Unthank added, “but I think it would be foolish to ignore the option.”
Clallam County is leasing the 1010 building at a monthly cost of $16,000. The county is funding the center with a $433,000 state Department of Commerce COVID-19 homeless relief grant.
The county also is spending about $32,000 per month on security and $30,000 per month to provide three meals daily for its 42 to 51 clients, said Kevin LoPiccolo, assistant director of Clallam County Health and Human Services.
Commissioner Randy Johnson said the total monthly cost of the facility is about $85,000.
“If the coronavirus stays around, which everyone predicts it will through at least spring, we have to plan for, again, the worst case,” Johnson said.
Ozias said there was “some overlap” between the social-distancing center and Serenity House of Clallam County, which operates an overnight shelter at 2321 W. 18th St.
Two people at Serenity House tested positive for COVID-19 last week, an employee and a shelter resident.
Extensive contact tracing was conducted in response to the outbreak. Clients and employees at the social-distancing center also were tested.
The 2020 Clallam County Fair has been canceled due to COVID-19 precautions.
“I like the idea of analyzing the utilization of that existing infrastructure,” Commissioner Bill Peach said.
“The fairgrounds are in very good condition.”
Ozias predicted there would be a “fair amount of public concern” over using the fairgrounds as a social-distancing shelter.
“At the same time, I think that we really ought to make sure that we’ve investigated and done the analysis of this alternative,” Ozias said.
“If the fairgrounds does provide us with the potential for housing more people safely over a more flexible period of time for whatever reason, then I definitely would want to know that.”
The analysis of the fairgrounds will be conducted by LoPiccolo and county Health and Human Services Director Andy Brastad in consultation with Unthank.
“This is an arena where we have every good reason to put the time and the thought into getting it right,” Ozias said.
“I think that every minute that we spend planning now is going to pay off come September, October, November.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].