PORT TOWNSEND — It’s a small town, so after a while, said Debbi Steele, you think you know everybody who’s into the causes you believe in.
But then at the Community Build Project site off San Juan Avenue, “you meet a whole new group of people,” she said — and they too care about making Jefferson County a more equitable place to live.
Steele is among the volunteers who have embarked on part two of Bayside Housing & Services’ effort to provide simple, secure transitional housing for people who’ve gone without it.
Last fall, a team of volunteer builders constructed Peter’s Place: 12 wooden shelters, furnished with beds, heaters, reading lamps and lockable doors. They’re now sited near the Community United Methodist Church in Port Hadlock, and managed by the self-governance council.
“We learned some things from Peter’s Place,” said Steele. The steps up to the front door of each shelter weren’t navigable for some potential residents, for example. And larger units with room for two people — a parent and child, a couple — were needed.
Under construction now, Steele said, are another 15 shelters including four doubles, ranging in size from 96 to 160 square feet. Needed to complete them in the three-month timeline: human power.
Information about volunteering is found at community-build.org or by phoning Steele at 805-312-6547.
Workers need not have previous homebuilding experience, she added. Team leaders Dave Merrill of Sequim and Randy Welle of Port Townsend supply guidance on the site, which is provided by the Evangelical Methodist Church at San Juan Avenue and 22nd Street.
The crew works Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a morning shift and an afternoon shift, Steele said, adding that volunteers can work once a week, once every other week — or much more often. Interior decoration, exterior painting, erecting walls and site cleanup are among the jobs that need doing.
“We’re flexible,” Steele said; “don’t worry if you’ve never done any of these things.” Most important, “it’s fun. It’s great to be outside,” working together.
On a sunny morning last week, six volunteers painted trim, prepared insulation and built roofs from Douglas fir.
Their backgrounds varied: Jerry Harpole of Port Townsend has worked with Doctors without Borders, building refugee camps in Uganda, Sierra Leone and other African nations; Michael Flickinger of Port Ludlow taught industrial biotechnology at North Carolina State University until his retirement three years ago. He’s also worked on Habitat for Humanity projects, as did Diane and David Bommer of Port Townsend, the insulation specialists on the Community Build site.
“I couldn’t participate in the first one [at Peter’s Place] because of the virus,” Flickinger said.
“Then I got vaccinated,” and started building roofing jigs for the second set.
Bayside Housing has purchased land in Port Townsend for these new homes, and is in the process of obtaining the needed permits, said manager-director Gary Keister. The agency is also in the middle of raising the $140,500 needed to complete the project.
“With lumber prices as volatile as they are, our starting cost for a fully placed tiny house is $8,500,” said Greer Gates, Bayside development director.
This project won’t be the last one. The onset of the pandemic has brought a substantial increase in applications for Bayside’s transitional housing units, Gates said. The agency has an ongoing waiting list of people needing somewhere to safely live.
Meantime, at Bayside’s rooms adjacent to the Old Alcohol Plant in Port Hadlock and at Peter’s Place, “we’re seeing turnover,” she said.
“We’re seeing our residents move into long-term housing,” which is heartening.
With help from a $25,000 donation from the Quimper Village community in Port Townsend, the fundraising total so far for the newest transitional housing project has reached $43,000, Gates said Friday.
To find out more about Bayside projects and to support them, see Baysidehousing.org.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]