Officials cautious about shelter

Jefferson considers taking over operations

PORT TOWNSEND — The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners is looking for additional information on the specifics of running the emergency shelter in downtown Port Townsend before they commit to taking over the management of the facility.

The emergency homeless shelter, located in the basement of the American Legion Marvin G. Shields Memorial Post 26, has been managed by Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) for several years, but in March, the organization told the county it no longer has the funds to run the shelter.

Since that time, a coalition of government and nonprofit groups have been working to find a way to keep the shelter open until the permanent shelter at the Caswell Brown Village is completed.

At their meeting Monday, county commissioners said they needed more information about the costs and specific requirements of running the facility before they can commit to taking over operations.

“While we continue to collect information, I don’t hear anything that makes me say we shouldn’t do this, given the risk on the other side, which I think is very real,” District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean said.

Commissioners and county staff voiced concern about the cost of running the shelter and the capacity for the county to take on a project in an area it has little or no experience.

But commissioners also expressed concern about not having an emergency homeless shelter available at all.

“If you don’t have an emergency shelter, you can’t prevent camping on public land,” District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton said. “We’re not eager to have another situation like we had at the fairgrounds where you have an unmanaged population with the accompanying health and safety risks.”

While litigation about what rights homeless people have to camp on public property is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court in the City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, current court rulings state that homeless people cannot be prevented from camping on public land if no shelter space is available.

Tammy Lidster, OlyCAP’s interim executive director, previously said the shelter costs between $25,000 and $30,000 a month to operate, mainly in salaries for on-site managers and monitors.

On Monday, county staff offered similar projections, with monthly costs potentially going as low as $20,000 a month, depending on staffing levels and services offered. One of the positions the county looked at creating to manage the shelter included a shelter program manager, who could be paid close to $60,000 a year, not including benefits.

Money from the county’s Homeless Housing Fund — Fund 149 could be diverted to the shelter, but that would require approval by the Housing Fund Board.

According to meeting documents, between $7,500 and $18,000 in monthly costs are not covered by existing revenue streams, depending on the projection.

Commissioners discussed partnering with other agencies that have experience in providing homeless and shelter services, but Brotherton said no local organizations have come forward to offer their support.

“There have been no other takers for it, but they haven’t been explicitly asked, ‘If we guaranteed the funds, would you manage the shelter?’” Brotherton said.

Additionally, Brotherton said representatives from the American Legion have said they prefer to have the organization that holds the lease for the basement space to also be the one that’s running the facility.

If the county does take over shelter management, it would only be until OlyCAP’s facility at the Caswell Brown Village is completed. That project could be completed within a year, but it’s still waiting on about $2.2 million in funding.

Lidster said requests for that funding have been submitted to the federal government.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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