PORT ANGELES — Ryan Petke was sleeping outside in a tent as the winter storms approached last week, but with help from members of the community he has been able to stay at a hotel and avoid the snow.
Trees had fallen on his tent earlier while he was inside and when he recently checked on his tent in a wooded area in Port Angeles it had been flattened by about 2 feet of snow.
“Honestly, I can tell you I forgot what a bed felt like,” Petke said.
Petke is one of about a dozen people who have been allowed to stay at hotels and motels in the Port Angeles and Sequim areas for a week for free, either through the generosity of hotel managers or because of donations from members of the community.
He said that staying at the Holiday Lodge on First Street in Port Angeles has given him a chance to fill out job applications as well as relief from worrying about people stealing his belongings.
“I didn’t plan to come out here and live in a tent so I have stuff that means something to me,” said Petke, who added that he has been clean from drugs for 10 years. “If that stuff went missing, I don’t know … I can only take so much.”
He was one of several people Amy Miller, who heads Volunteer in Medicine of the Olympics’ Rediscovery program, checked on Tuesday. She knocked on doors at the Holiday Lodge to make sure everyone she had found a room for was doing well and that they knew which services were available Tuesday and which ones weren’t.
Terri Gerber, manager of the Holiday Lodge, said she has been donating nights to people and working with others who don’t have all the money to pay for a room.
She said her sister froze to death in 2001; low temperatures and snow prompted her to make sure people had a place to stay.
“You help people,” she said. “It was cold last night. If they came in late, had $10, $20 or something, this could be a stepping stone.”
Miller, with the help of Shenna Younger, VIMO development and operations director; Port Angeles and Sequim police departments; Peninsula Communications and many community members have spent the past several days working to make sure people are able to get out of the cold.
She and Younger also coordinated with the Port Angeles and Sequim food banks to make sure people had food over the weekend.
That included, but was not limited to, boxes of food for each person who stayed in a hotel, 500 pounds of food to Serenity House of Clallam County’s night-by-night shelter and 50 pounds to The Tempest, permanent supportive housing managed by Serenity House.
They coordinated rides to Serenity House’s night-by-night shelter after the van that typically picks up clients was unable to make it to the pickup spot and they worked with donors and hotels to make sure people had places to stay.
Serenity House posted on Facebook on Monday evening that due to road conditions, staff made a “last-minute call” to cancel the van for that evening; Serenity House resumed van pickups Tuesday.
That decision Monday led to people who were waiting for the van calling and messaging Miller to see if they still had a way to get to the shelter.
“I consulted with shelter staff and indeed no van was running, so we really scurried,” Miller said.
She said all of the Port Angeles police officers who were patrolling at the time helped take about half a dozen people to the shelter, but Miller continued to receive calls about people who were stuck in the snow.
Serenity House’s night-by-night shelter on 18th Street in Port Angeles — which is several miles and uphill from downtown — has been open 24/7 recently due to the cold temperatures and snow.
With help from community volunteers who had vehicles with four-wheel drive, more people were transported to the shelter until about 11 p.m., Miller said.
Miller said she feels that better communication would have made the situation less chaotic, but she was proud of all those who stepped up to help.
“We did it and we frickin’ nailed it,” she said. “That makes me and others think about why was it us? What is missing in the city that should be in place? Those conversations are being had going forward.”
Younger started her outreach efforts in Port Angeles on Friday night by delivering a set of snow chains to Serenity House that had been donated by someone in Sequim, but then shifted gears to working with the Sequim Police Department to ensure people in Sequim had a place to go.
She said a couple donors told her and Miller to get people into hotels and they would cover the costs.
“We’re nearing $4,000 for all of these hotel rooms for a week,” Younger said.
She said Saturday she found three people who were homeless, included a 74-year-old woman who was living in her car at a Sequim grocery store.
That woman was able to get into a hotel room for the week because of the donations that have come in.
“I had heard about older women living in their cars, but this was the first time that I actually witnessed it and it breaks my heart,” Younger said. “We have to figure it out.”
On Sunday, Younger partnered with the Sequim Food Bank to get food to people in hotels and at the Sunbelt Apartments, which are operated by Serenity House and owned by the Peninsula Housing Authority.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said that though officers’ enthusiasm to help people in the community hasn’t changed, PAPD’s partnership with Rediscovery has made it easier for officers to help.
“Having people like the Rediscovery program, it helps officers be more effective when they’re out helping people,” Smith said. “Amy Miller was working the phones and coordinating, making the efforts of the officers and organizations more effective.”
Smith said he feels confident that because of the coordination as snow fell Monday night, anyone who wanted help and was visible was able to find a warm place to stay.
He said call volume remained relatively low as the snow fell, giving officers more time to help.
“I want to thank the community for their generosity and willingness to help other people,” Smith said.
“It’s been evident in the snowstorm with people helping their neighbors. We’ve seen that all over the place.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].