Judy Alexander of Port Townsend installs interior siding with Peter Bonyun while working on an emergency shelter. Alexander and Bonyun are two of the three people who started the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Judy Alexander of Port Townsend installs interior siding with Peter Bonyun while working on an emergency shelter. Alexander and Bonyun are two of the three people who started the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Emergency shelters are taking shape

Project to serve homeless in winter

PORT TOWNSEND — With the chill of winter looming and the threat of COVID-19 rising, Peter Bonyun said he is coordinating the construction of emergency homeless shelters because he’s been homeless himself.

“I have a lot of empathy for people who are unsheltered right now because I was once homeless with five children and a wife,” said the 79-year-old Port Townsend resident.

“Fortunately, it didn’t last too long, but the feeling of not having a place to be was terrifying.”

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle uses a saw to cut a board to size while building an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Welle and two neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle uses a saw to cut a board to size while building an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Welle and two neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Since early October, Bonyun and two other Port Townsend residents — Jesse Thomas and Judy Alexander — have been coordinating the construction of 8-by-12-foot insulated shelters with lockable doors, electricity, heating and a small window using donated funds, donated materials and small groups of volunteers at a work site made available by the Evangelical Bible Church in Port Townsend.

“These are temporary emergency shelters for the most vulnerable people in our community, not permanent housing stock,” Bonyun said, pointing out that the shelters do not have plumbing.

“Our goal is to provide these rapidly developed units for the community to use to support people who need emergency housing,” said Thomas, who initiated what has been dubbed the Community Build Project this fall, inspired by the Low Income Housing Institute’s creation of tiny house villages in cities throughout Western Washington to replace often chaotic and unsafe tent encampments.

Port Townsend resident Peter Bonyun uses a saw to cut a piece of plywood to size while building an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Bonyun is one of the people who started the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend resident Peter Bonyun uses a saw to cut a piece of plywood to size while building an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Bonyun is one of the people who started the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

“Even though many questions hadn’t been answered about how a village would actually work, we felt we had to just start building so that we could be ready for this winter,” he said.

So far, five shelters have been constructed, each by a different team of four to eight volunteers organized through churches, nonprofits, businesses and neighborhood groups and led by a volunteer with construction skills.

With a goal of building 12 shelters by the end of November, Bonyun said he’s looking to recruit more volunteers.

“We do need team leaders with construction experience, but there’s room for people with a range of skills,” he said. “They can put up insulation, drive screws and help however they’re able.”

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, center, Greg Kossow, right, and Larry Morrell, bottom left, work on the roof overhang of an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, center, Greg Kossow, right, and Larry Morrell, bottom left, work on the roof overhang of an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

With assistance from Bayside Housing and Services, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) and Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, the project organizers say they’re working with a property owner in Port Hadlock to secure a site for the shelters, which remains undisclosed as that process is ongoing.

Bayside, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing at the Old Alcohol Plant Inn in Port Hadlock, has agreed to manage the site and those who would be temporarily living there.

Gary Keister, a founder and Bayside board member who is serving as its acting director, said he’s confident in the nonprofit’s ability to manage such a community.

“We understand the concerns of the public, and we’re going to make every effort to manage this in a very professional way,” he said. “We will go through the same rigorous application process that we use for Bayside and have staff that are capable of managing it well.”

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, from left, Greg Kossow and Larry Morrell work to construct an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, from left, Greg Kossow and Larry Morrell work to construct an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Bayside has a waiting list of more than 100 people who have applied for transitional housing, Keister said, and those who might use these shelters would be selected from that list.

“I know some people see this kind of thing as just a Band-Aid,” he said, “but it’s not a Band-Aid for those who need to be out of the cold and be sheltered today.”

Although Thomas recognizes the shelters will not serve people camping at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, he said the challenges of that situation inspired him to pursue a managed village of secure emergency shelters.

“What’s happening at the fairgrounds is what happens when you have an unmanaged campsite,” Thomas said.

Larry Morrell, from left, Greg Kossow and Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle work to construct an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Larry Morrell, from left, Greg Kossow and Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle work to construct an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

The project organizers said they are hoping a public restroom trailer with shower facilities might be made available through federal CARES Act funds administered by Jefferson County, but OlyCAP Executive Director Cherish Cronmiller said it’s still unclear whether that proposal will receive funding.

“Everything is completely in limbo,” she said, noting it will likely be another two or three weeks before a decision is made on how exactly those funds will be spent.

“Even if it is funded and made available, it is an expensive proposition when you consider maintenance. It’s going to take a village to make this happen.”

Larry Morrell, left, and Greg Kossow put a roof on an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Along with Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, the neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Larry Morrell, left, and Greg Kossow put a roof on an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Along with Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle, the neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Regardless of the challenges ahead, project organizers said it feels good to be doing something with the goal of helping those who may be most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and a cold winter.

“Folks without shelter have a lot more difficulty dealing with the frustrations of daily life, not to mention staying safe during a pandemic,” Bonyun said. “And in this time, when we don’t have the social connections we normally have. Being homeless can be that much more traumatic.”

Larry Morrell, from left, Greg Kossow and Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle put a roof on an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Larry Morrell, from left, Greg Kossow and Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle put a roof on an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. The neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

To learn more about organizing a group of volunteers to build a shelter, contact Bonyun at peterbonyun@gmail.com or 360-531-2795.

To view a video about the Community Build Project, visit Port Townsend videographer Dennis Daneau’s YouTube channel.

To donate to the Community Build Project through Bayside, visit tinyurl.com/y3uarxcm.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at njohnson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle works on the roof of an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Welle and a couple of neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Blue Heron Construction co-owner Randy Welle works on the roof of an emergency shelter Thursday afternoon in Port Townsend. Welle and a couple of neighbors formed a volunteer group to build one shelter over several days as part of the Community Build Project, which aims to provide temporary-use shelters for the homeless during the coming winter months. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

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