PORT TOWNSEND — Twenty-three-year-old Victoria Brown died outside of her trailer at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds a few days after Christmas 2020.
John Caswell, 62, died of hyperthermia — he couldn’t escape last June’s extreme heat wave.
Each of the two people lived in Port Townsend, both struggled with substance abuse, and neither had a house, an apartment or a room to rent.
So began a presentation to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners about care for the unhoused people who live locally. Cherish Cronmiller and Kathy Morgan of the Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) spoke about the progress they’ve made — with county funding — and about their hopes to help more families, couples and single people find a safe place to be.
That place is named the Caswell-Brown Village in remembrance of the two homeless people who lost their lives, said Cronmiller, OlyCAP executive director. Known at first as the Mill Road site, it’s a centralized, OlyCAP-monitored encampment near the Larry Scott Trail and the Port Townsend Paper Corp.
This Monday, Caswell-Brown is again on the county agenda.
The commissioners will discuss the next phases and their potential funding during the conversation scheduled for 10:30 a.m.; the public can attend the meeting online via https://zoom.us/j/93777841705, or in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St.
Monday’s agenda and OlyCAP’s slide presentation are found at www.co.jefferson.wa.us under Agendas and Minutes.
It was seven months ago that the county commissioners purchased the village land for $600,000. It was an emergency solution after the fairgrounds, since the start of the pandemic, had become an encampment for homeless people.
This was a big problem — for neighbors, law enforcement, the fairgrounds and the campers.
By the first week of October, the majority of those campers had been moved. And the Caswell-Brown Village, Cronmiller told the commissioners, has since changed the outlook for people who’ve been unable to find shelter.
OlyCAP provides 24-seven monitoring at Caswell-Brown; OlyCAP has developed protocols for visitors, which have cut down on incidents involving law enforcement. An entrance gate, electrical power, a trailer supplying potable water, a kitchen tent and portable toilets are on site.
A contract with Jefferson Healthcare provides hot meals daily, while local businesses such as Green Crow Tacos and Crusty Crumb bakery donate food every week, Cronmiller noted.
A nurse from the JC MASH free clinic makes weekly visits, Discovery Behavioral Health offers mental health check-ins and the Pet Helpers organization sends volunteers to aid campers’ pets.
Nineteen adults and one child are staying at the Caswell-Brown Village, Cronmiller reported.
At the same time, too many other people are living in the woods or in their vehicles, Morgan added.
As OlyCAP’s director of housing and community development, she hears from people wanting to come to Caswell-Brown — but there isn’t yet space for them.
Morgan and Cronmiller then presented the plans for the village’s next phases, which could include a new entrance road farther away from the Larry Scott Trail, safety lighting, septic service, a communal shower-bathroom facility, a communal kitchen for residents and volunteers, and a place to do laundry. Space for tiny shelters, in addition to tents and motor homes, is also a possibility.
The village could be expanded to accommodate 50 residents, which is the number provided for in the county ordinance, Cronmiller noted.
Jefferson County already has committed about $1 million to the Caswell-Brown project, including the purchase price.
Now OlyCAP is asking whether — and how much more — the county is willing to provide in support.
OlyCAP intends to apply for state and federal funding for village improvements and operating costs, Cronmiller said. If the agency can show it has ongoing site control as well as local support, those applications will be much stronger.
Expanding a centralized site such as Caswell-Brown, she emphasized, can be more cost-efficient than what other cities and counties are spending on scattered encampments. The latter may not give people good access to basic necessities and mental and physical health care, which can lead to greater costs to the community.
After the OlyCAP presentation about expansion to 50 people at the village, District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean asked whether there are “additional folks who wish to be residents.”
“Oh, my goodness. Yes,” Cronmiller said, adding that “we all get calls, nonstop” from people asking about Caswell-Brown.
A priority list will have to be worked out, Morgan added, and that will be difficult due to the number of people in need.
“We’re really looking forward to getting the families out of their cars and places that are not fit for human habitation,” she said.
District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton thanked Morgan, Cronmiller and their team for taking on the project — an audacious and visionary one, he believes.
As for the county’s involvement as a funder, Brotherton added, the village “is part of our community. So it does fall on our shoulders.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz @peninsuladailynews.com.