PORT ANGELES — On the same day Port of Port Angeles commissioners extended a COVID-19 pact with Clallam County to house homeless people, they learned a chain-link fence is being installed to keep the homeless off port property.
Construction of the 7-foot, $76,000 chain link barrier across West 18th Street from the Serenity House of Clallam County homeless services center will begin this week, port commissioners learned Tuesday.
Earlier during their regular meeting, they unanimously approved an assistance-agreement extension with Clallam County Health and Human Services through May 31 for a social-distancing facility in port-owned facilities not far from the fence.
Open since April, the center — 27,500 square feet in two buildings and an open space — is intended for COVID-challenged homeless individuals. It serves those unable to live in an environment that allows the 6-foot separation that prevents COVID’s spread and for those with the virus who don’t need hospitalization but must be quarantined or isolated.
County commission Chairman Mark Ozias, confident commissioners will approve the agreement, said Tuesday that 60-65 individuals are living at the center.
The fence will be built by Rainbow Sweepers Inc. of Port Angeles along West 18th from the port’s N Street entrance that leads to the composite manufacturing campus to O Street, which leads to Airport Industrial Park.
Port officials want to keep people from camping and otherwise encroaching into an open area on port property between the two access points.
“We’ve been having problems on all of the property out there,” Deputy Director John Nutter told port commissioners Steven Burke, Colleen McAleer and Connie Beauvais.
“We had everything from vehicles being dumped to brush fires started in our fields over the summer, that we just had a number of security issues, and one of the easier ways to deal with that is just to go ahead and secure the area along 18th Street,” Nutter said.
Executive Director Karen Goschen said the port wants to take a “strong preventative approach” to the impacts of a growing homeless population in a county with limited resources.
“We’ve waited a long time to do the fencing because of the cost,” she said.
“There are more and more homelessness issues.”
The concern is that people will start camping on port property “and inadvertently start being able to claim that that’s home,” Goschen said.
“It becomes very challenging, legal wise, to move people off the property,” Goschen said.
The county has been paying $15,000 a month since April 1 to the port to rent office and manufacturing space at the port’s 1010 building and a smaller area of yard space at the 1050 building.
“I realize this is not in the port’s mission to do,” Beauvais said.
“I am fully aware that there are much higher and better uses for this building and for all of our buildings when you look at this. However, in the economic time and pandemic time that we are in, it is really difficult to get tenants into buildings, and this is a community service that the port is helping to provide.”
Nutter said Tuesday in a text message that the port is required by the Federal Aviation Administration — the port operates nearby William R. Fairchild International Airport — to charge market rates “to help financially support the airport.”
Clallam County has exhausted a $433,368 state Department of Commerce grant to operate the facility.
“That’s no longer available to spend,” Ozias said.
The county also received $1.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for Health and Human Services projects such as the shelter.
Ozias said the county will cover the rent in 2021 with general fund reserves in hopes that Congress will pass another federal relief package.
Serenity House, unable to socially distance a growing homeless population, has a Port Angeles hearing examiner hearing Dec. 16 for a conditional use permit to expand its 2321 W. 18th St. shelter that would house at least some social distancing center clients.
Serenity House would expand by 40 beds if it grows by one story and 80 beds if two stories are added, according to the application, available at cityofpa.us under “Meetings and Agendas” for the hearing examiner.
Overnight camping would be allowed for an additional five tents and five vehicles.
Serenity House serves 60-80 clients and has the capacity for 108.
A Department of Community and Economic Development staff report on the project will be issued today.
Assuming Serenity House obtains a permit, Ozias said it’s questionable whether a facility can be built in three or four months or that a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available by then.
Ozias couldn’t be sure the county would not need to keep the social distancing center open beyond May 31.
“It remains to be seen,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.