SEQUIM — Officials at the city of Sequim heard loud and clear that staying a night at a shelter does not adequately represent a night of homelessness.
That’s why on Tuesday, City Manager Charlie Bush and three public works employees set out to walk the streets of Sequim throughout the night instead of staying at a shelter. The plan was to document what they saw so they could produce a video to show the Sequim City Council and community as the city begins deliberating funding of human services early next year.
“We didn’t talk to a lot of people, but we certainly got a sense for homelessness in Sequim and how difficult it is,” Bush said.
Bush said that they found a lot of people who were sleeping in cars and others who were inside stores, but did not see anyone camping in tents.
Sequim city officials were challenged to spend a night on the streets after Amy Miller and Shenna Younger stayed a night at Serenity House of Clallam County’s night-by-night shelter, which has recently been renamed the Clallam County Community Shelter: night-by-night.
They challenged Port Angeles City Manager Nathan West and City Council Member Mike French to do the same, which they did last week.
West and French, who heard from many that to get a better experience they should have stayed the night outside, then challenged Sequim officials.
Many people who are homeless in Clallam County choose not to stay at the Serenity House shelter for various reasons.
Sequim officials began their night with a bus ride to Port Angeles to talk to guests and staff at the night-by-night shelter. They then took a bus back to Sequim to spend the next several hours wandering the streets.
“You can barely get any rest and you’re almost constantly moving so you can stay warm,” Bush said. “We knew it would be hard to be homeless in Sequim, but we didn’t realize necessarily how hard until we went through the experience.”
He said part of the challenge was when the temperature dipped to about 37 degrees. Though he wore multiple layers of hiking gear and was well prepared for the cold, the temperature still made it difficult to rest, he said.
He said stores, such as Walmart and Safeway were like an “oasis” because they were warm and had services, though in Port Angeles many people who are homeless have been prohibited from those stores for various reasons.
“We were able to stay warm enough by walking around, but it would have been more miserable for sure,” if the stores were not options, Bush said. “Restroom options would have been more limited. It gets a lot harder.”
Bush said he expects the experience to influence policy and funding decisions at the city.
The city of Sequim has issued a request for proposals for funding of human services. Bush said his experience Tuesday night confirms what providers have said are the key issues facing Sequim’s homeless population.
The city has $75,000 of funding annually that could be used to create a “one-stop shop” for people experiencing homelessness to find services.
Among the top issues in the Sequim area is sheltering, he said, calling the trek to the Serenity House’s overnight shelter in Port Angeles “tremendous” for Sequim’s homeless population.
Bush hopes that the $75,000 can work as seed money that can be used to leverage other funds to develop a 24/7 center where people could go when they are ready to get help.
Bush said officials are looking at ways to take advantage of the region’s designation as the Emerald Coast Opportunity Zone, a federal program that offers tax breaks for investors.
“We’ve been talking with human services agencies and really encouraging them to collaborate,” he said. “As they collaborate, we’re hoping they come up with some even more creative ideas.”
Bush challenged Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias and Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols to spend a night on the streets.
He said the challenge is to “have the adventure of their choice,” whether they stay at the shelter or outdoors.
Ozias said Wednesday he hadn’t planned what he would be doing tonight when he and Nichols take on the challenge.
“I expect to learn a lot … and I’m grateful for the organizers to have thought to put something like this together,” Ozias said. “I have no idea what to expect, to tell the truth.”
Nichols said he is interested in learning more about the shelter and said the experience could influence the discussion about creating a mental health court in Clallam County.
“I want to learn a bit more about the nature and extent of resources available and identify gaps,” he said. “I’m grateful for Amy and Shenna taking the initiative to come up with a concept and coordinate this.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at email@example.com.