SEQUIM — The Rev. Bob Rhoads noted that things have changed in Sequim dramatically in the past few years, that up until about six years ago, the doors to Rhoads’ St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue were unlocked during the day. Not so anymore.
A steady population growth among local residents seeking assistance at St. Luke’s and other churches has their leaders and staff looking for better ways to connect them with services in the area.
“Part of this meeting came out of my own frustration,” Rhoads told a group of faith-based and social service group members at a church in mid-March.
Within minutes, it was clear to Rhoads and other attendees he wasn’t alone.
Representatives of more than a dozen churches and groups such as Sequim Community Aid, St. Vincent de Paul, the Sequim Food Bank, Serenity House of Clallam County and others recounted similar frustrations.
Some churches have benevolent funds set aside for people seeking emergency funds and aid, while others offer temporary housing and others support groups and food on certain days of the week.
“Part of my dream is that we’ll be able to better coordinate [services],” Rhoads said.
Seeking to help impoverished, hungry, homeless or the underemployed, Rhoads and other church leaders plan to tackle issues in coming weeks.
Their next meeting is set for May 19 at St. Luke’s, with a presentation of services by Serenity House of Clallam County.
“I’m hoping this is not a one-off meeting,” Rhoads said.
Other community groups on hand included the Olympic Area Agency on Aging, League of Women Voters, Friends in Action, The Answer for Youth and Olympic Community Action Programs.
Police fund possible
Rhoads said one of the things he wanted to see started was a benevolence fund through the Sequim Police Department to address some of those emergency issues that arise when people in need come to local churches seeking money for food, fuel or shelter.
Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson, who attended the meeting, said earlier this week city staff is discussing the idea but hasn’t committed to anything.
He said Rhoads’ idea is an “interesting notion and we’re open to it.”
Dickinson stressed that such a benevolence fund would be used for emergency issues only and not for issues such as finding permanent housing.
Aid would be distributed through things such as gas and gift cards, hotel/motel vouchers and bus passes, Dickinson said, rather than having officers handing out cash, and also to not replicate services already provided.
“We see the street homeless all the time,” Dickinson said.
“We see [some of] them going around milking everybody, and they’re not really changing anything. Sometimes we’re dealing with mental issues. We try to connect people with those [other resources].”
Dickinson said he likes the idea of being able to provide emergency support to people who might suddenly find themselves on the street.
“Some of that emergency housing is available in Port Angeles, but not here,” he said.
Rhoads said he’d donate $500 from St. Luke’s to start the fund.
Dickinson said this kind of benevolent fund would be a bonus for the police department, too.
“Law enforcement is kind of suffering a crisis in confidence; every officer I have got into this [field] because they want to help people,” he said.
“Being the 24/7 emergency responders in the area, we deal a lot with the homeless and homelessness issues,” Dickinson said.
“If we can harness [those services] and make it unified, maybe we can do more.”
Heike Ward, volunteer and chaplain for the Sequim Police Department, is helping coordinate faith-based groups by developing contacts and developing a list what services groups and churches offer.
Some representatives expressed interest in putting boxes outside churches with information for those services.
Randy Hurlbut, pastor at Sequim Valley Foursquare Church, said he felt the meeting was a good beginning to addressing homelessness issues in the faith community and at-large.
“There’s a tremendous amount of need that’s not being addressed properly,” Hurlbut said.
“There’s more need than ever. The government hand-outs don’t seem to be enough.”
Hurlbut said his church has consistently provided food and support for the Sequim Food Bank and Sequim Community Aid, and meals, gas and places to stay for people with emergencies.
“We want to consolidate resources so that more people get it,” Hurlbut said.
“Someone was concerned about consolidating the groups all into one, but we want to make sure we’re not repeating the same thing over and over. That was the idea: not cut services but get those services to those in need.”
Michael Dashiell is an editor with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Sequim Gazette reporter Matthew Nash contributed to the report.