PORT ANGELES — An Everett man has made it his mission to help people struggling with homelessness and addiction, and it’s a mission that has led him to Port Angeles.
Robert Smiley, founder of The Hand Up Project, said he and volunteers drive people from Snohomish County to Port Angeles and other communities so they can detox — and then they take them home.
“I’m not helping anybody if I’m leaving them here,” Smiley said Monday. “I don’t want to create homelessness by bringing people way out here and leaving them.”
He said he has found that in Snohomish County it is not unusual for people to have to wait up to five days to get into detox, which led to him searching for other facilities around the state.
“After they’re done with detox they come back with us or they go into inpatient treatment,” Smiley said. “Once they go into inpatient treatment they call me with their counselor and we arrange for the county to cover their rent when they come out.”
Smiley, who has more than six years free from crack cocaine and alcohol, said The Hand Up Project operates two clean and sober houses in Everett and works with other organizations to get people into housing.
He said it’s his work helping others that helps him stay clean.
“It’s taken me a couple years to find the places that will take them, do what I need done with them, and then give them back to me,” Smiley said. “I need them back.”
When Amy Miller — who heads Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics’ ReDiscovery Program in partnership with the Port Angeles Police Department — learned of Smiley’s efforts, she saw it as an opportunity for a partnership.
Miller spends much of her time on street outreach and connecting people to resources.
“I thought maybe we could have some ability to partner up because he’s coming out here from out of town and there’s a lot of folks in Port Angeles trying to get out of town for their treatment needs too,” Miller said.
“That’s something that happens with treatment. We generally look outside of town for certain levels of treatment because it’s more successful when you’re not in your home environment.”
She said that in Port Angeles there are almost always beds available for detox and that The Hand Up Project is not taking beds away from Clallam County residents. She said it’s the treatment beds that can be hard to come by.
Smiley said he’s more than willing to help people in Port Angeles get help from outside the community and he isn’t concerned about the cost.
“I’ve already told her I’m the worst businessman out there,” Smiley said. “If you have people who need help to get somewhere that will change their life, I’m on it.”
He said that last year The Hand Up Project transported 43 people from Port Angeles to Snohomish County for various services.
The Hand Up Project has been coming to Port Angeles for the last three years, but trips became more frequent two years ago when Smiley realized people who went to Port Angeles seemed to have greater rates of success.
“We’ve been more aggressive in the last two years once we found that people were actually staying sober because of the treatment over there,” he said. “They have better treatment than a lot of these other organizations.”
Sending people to detox in Port Angeles is just part of his program, he said. People are also transported to Chehalis, Skagit County, Seattle and Tukwila, he said.
The Hand Up Project provides outreach to homeless encampments in Snohomish County, cleans encampments, helps those in poverty connect with resources, helps people struggling with addiction get into detox and provides housing assistance and accountability.
He said last year 67 percent of his clients had more than a year sober.
“I believe it has to do with the type of treatment they’re getting and when they get released you can’t let them go back to their family and you can’t let them go back to their old environment,” he said.
Smiley said in his experience people from Snohomish County who detox in Port Angeles do not want to be in Port Angeles. When they complete detox The Hand Up Project provides a ride home, but not everyone successfully finishes detox.
For those that decide to leave, The Hand Up Project provides money so they can take the Strait Shot bus from Port Angeles to the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal.
“On the ride out here you realize that if you don’t want to detox, you want to get home and not be here,” Smiley said. “When you walk out the door you don’t know where the drugs are and you don’t know what the cop atmosphere is. They don’t want to be here and I don’t hesitate to let them know I’ll bring them back.”
The Hand Up Project, which relies on grant funding and donations, operates two clean and sober homes, both of which are duplexes that have been converted to house about 14 people each.
At one time the nonprofit had eight houses, he said, but it has allowed six of those to be taken over by other organizations.
He said The Hand Up Project is working on building a 96-bed apartment building for clean-and-sober housing.
He said the land is secured and there’s funding in place for construction, but the nonprofit is still looking for an architect. He said it would be four stories with four three-room apartments per floor.
Clients would be required to be enrolled in outpatient and help the nonprofit with cleanups.
For more information visit www.thehandupproject.org.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].