Homeless task force sets goals for five-year plan

Group aims to capture more complete data

PORT TOWNSEND — A housing task force plans to set a goal to create 270 livable units by 2024 with a combination of affordable apartments and other safe places for homeless or those with low incomes.

The task force has an Oct. 1 deadline to submit its recommendation for a five-year housing plan to the county commissioners, who will review it before they consider sending it to the state Department of Commerce.

Then the real work begins.

“We didn’t come here to lose, we came here to make a difference,” task force facilitator Lizanne Coker said Wednesday.

The task force has one final meeting — at 2 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Cotton Building, 607 Water St., Port Townsend — to finalize its objectives.

The Affordable Housing and Homeless Housing task force is a subcommittee of the Joint Oversight Board, which is a collaborative effort between the county and the city of Port Townsend.

It has been getting together twice per month since June, attempting to gather data and listen to anecdotes of individual or group living situations throughout Jefferson County.

Coker thought she might be reaching a bit when she suggested 270 units, but the task force approved the objective.

She broke it down to 162 apartment units, 28 safe beds, 40 safe placements for senior citizens and 20 senior RV units, plus 20 safe beds in two host homes in addition to multiple host families for homeless youth.

“We’ve actually got a lot of this cresting the wave here,” she said. “A lot of these are already back-funded by something. They’ve already got a plan.

“Several of these already have their funders rolling into place, and that’s a good thing.”

The picture becomes less clear when the task force looks for hard figures.

Coker said Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) is the only social services organization that has been reporting its usage to the state. That means statistics and usage isn’t necessarily reflected from Dove House, Bayside Housing or any other group, she said.

There were only 85 people entered into coordinated care in Jefferson County last year, according to those figures, and the average length of homelessness for those people was calculated a 617 days.

The shelter at the American Legion hall in downtown Port Townsend isn’t included in those figures either, Coker said.

“We could clarify with an asterisk, saying OlyCAP is reporting numbers but there are other entities out there with figures,” she said.

Port Townsend City Council member Michelle Sandoval, who sits on the task force, said the data needs to be more complete.

“This is supposed to be the document we go to the public with,” Sandoval said. “If it shows 85 people are homeless … what’s the crisis?”

The task force was bothered by the state-reported number that shows 100 percent of those who were entered into coordinated care were put into permanent housing.

They know that’s not accurate.

“We have a dynamic population and a constant influx of people who are becoming homeless at any given time,” Coker said. “At the same time, previously homeless people are being housed.

“Many efforts geared at preventing homelessness and evaluating the long-term effectiveness of these programs is difficult to measure.”

Coker said one of the task force’s objectives is to collect more complete data.

“I think we should be looking at everybody we serve,” she said.

Sandoval said the numbers should include people who have been turned away, too.

“How many families with children or women couldn’t be housed at the shelter?” she asked.

“My goal is educating the community on why it’s needed,” Sandoval continued.

Coker used information from the county’s annual Point in Time homelessness count and added 6 percent each year to project the total number of homeless along with a breakdown of sheltered and unsheltered homeless.

The forecast number for 2020 was 180 people, she said, although she wasn’t confident with using the Department of Commerce information.

“Part of the problem with using the predictive analysis tools is that our data hasn’t been what it should be,” she said.

Coker cited a 20-year study performed in 2015 that showed a projected need for 1,300 living units. That includes workforce housing units and market-rate rental units, she said.

“We’re behind the eight ball,” she said.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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