PORT ANGELES — Annual surveys show the number of homeless people in Clallam County declining, but wait lists for housing remain long and the number of older people experiencing homelessness continues to grow, according to Serenity House of Clallam County’s executive director.
Sharon Maggard told those attending the weekly meeting of Coffee with Colleen said that 2 percent of the county’s more than 78,000 people are homeless, with another 2 percent being underhoused or housed in substandard accommodations.
Clallam County’s data from the yearly Point-in-Time (PIT) count shows the number of homeless people captured by the survey to have declined from 247 in 2021 to 214 in 2023, but that number is only the number of people surveyed on the day of the count.
“The guidelines for the PIT count are if you’re over 18, you are not considered homeless if you live in somebody’s garage; you’re not considered homeless if you’re living in an RV on somebody’s lot; you’re not considered homeless if you’re living in a shed on somebody’s property,” Maggard said.
The 2 percent number comes from the total number of people on the various waiting lists for housing support programs through the many agencies countywide that provide them.
Though the PIT count shows the number of homeless people declining, Maggard said in a later interview she doesn’t think that reflects the actual state of homelessness in the county.
“To go by the number of people on waiting lists for apartments to give subsidies to, then I’d have to say no,” Maggard said.
According to the 2023 Clallam County Coordinated Entry report drafted by Serenity House, there are 1,118 households looking or waiting for open units from the county’s various service providers including Serenity House, Peninsula Behavioral Health and Peninsula Housing Authority.
Serenity House has 62 affordable housing units, Maggard said, but turnover at those units is low. Vacancies at those units typically only arise when someone dies or is incarcerated, Maggard said, usually only about two or three a year.
Most local landlords do accept housing vouchers, Maggard said, but for every unit that opens up, there can be dozens of applicants.
The report also found that, since 2021, there’s been a 37 percent increase in the number of people ages 55 and older experiencing homelessness.
“Typically these people have disabilities and typically they have lost housing because they lost a spouse and that income isn’t there,” Maggard said, or they’ve been pushed out of their housing because of hoarding issues, which can become a fire hazard for landlords.
The region lacks resources to help people declutter, Maggard said, and there are few nursing homes available for the homeless demographic.
Maggard said she believes the largest driver of homelessness in the county to be the lack of affordable housing. Rental prices are increasing and many older individuals are unable to medically take care of themselves in their apartments.
“Mental health and substance abuse, we consider those to be the highest reason (for homelessness),” Maggard said. “Part of that’s true, but you don’t know whether you’ve got a chicken or the egg. You don’t know what’s causing or driving that substance abuse.”
Altogether, about $5 million is spent each year in Clallam County on low-income and homeless housing programs, and the county has established a Housing Solutions Committee to try to address the problem.
Maggard said the purpose of the report is to help the homelessness agencies in Clallam County over the next five years.
The report also tracks the number of housing units being built in the county, which has increased from 2021. According to the report, there were an estimated 38,228 total housing units in 2021 and 38,608 in 2023.
“I think the community should know that we’re working on programs that will help housing,” Maggard said. “There’s infrastructure in Sequim and Port Angeles trying to extend the area out so we have utilities out to other places to build.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.