Volunteers staff Port Townsend shelter for homeless on Christmas

PORT TOWNSEND — On Christmas Eve, 16 people filed into the emergency winter shelter at 208 Monroe St. and found warm pizza, Christmas movies playing on the television, blanketed beds and a warm, safe place to rest their heads.

Two men gave up their holiday night with family to staff the shelter: their Christmas gift to the community.

“The Christmas week is hard to staff,” said David Whitney, a volunteer from First Presbyterian Church. “So I said I would take it.

“I have a friend coming in tonight to take the shift for about an hour so I can go to church for the evening service, but then I will come back here and spend the night.”

Steve De Santis, an Olympic Community Action Programs employee who also planned to spend the night — for which a low of 30 degrees had been forecast by the National Weather Service — said volunteering his time was as important to him as the beds were to those who used them.

“A lot of the people here have jobs, but times are tough,” he said.

“I’m here because the issue of homelessness is a problem, and it would be so easy to solve if we worked together.

“This shelter is great, and it is one way to help.”

American Legion

The shelter operated by OlyCAP and Faith-based Community Outreach Association Shelter Team, or COAST, is housed in the basement of the American Legion Post 26.

It is open from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily during the winter season. This season began Nov. 30 and will continue through March 18.

The facility, which has a kitchen, served 75 people each year of 2008 and 2007. It served 55 in 2006.

OlyCAP and COAST volunteers serve as night monitors who make sure everyone gets what they need, from warm bedding to food to health care, if required.

‘Best he has seen’

De Santis said he has worked in a few different shelters and called this one “the best he has seen.”

“I never realized before how much the faith-based groups come through,” he said. “They really do help make this work.”

The Legion also has pitched in by improving the building over the past three years.

“In 2007, the shelter was here, and we had a leaky roof, a broken sump pump and a furnace that belched out black smoke,” said Joe Carey, commander of the Legion post.

“It was wet and cold, on top of us being $20,000 in debt at the Legion.”

Carey and what he calls a “massive group of volunteers” worked on the Legion hall.

The roof is now fixed after a huge fundraising effort, the sump pump protects from ground water and the furnace keeps everyone warm, including the shelter residents.

“We had a ton of volunteers, a ton of donations and a ton of work and materials donated to make this place work for everyone,” Carey said.

The Legion also house the MASH clinic, which supplies free health care from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. each Tuesday. The post also gives community groups discount prices on the rental of the banquet hall.

Thank-you banquet

On Jan. 28, the Legion will host a banquet from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to thank all of the people involved in fixing up the place.

“If everyone comes who has helped make this place what it is, we will have over 200 people,” Carey said.

“And all the food, drinks and wine are paid for.

“Three years ago we were in debt. Now we have spent $50,000 in capital improvements here, and have the money to throw this thank-you party.

“What we do here is good work. We want to say thank you for helping us do that.”

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Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

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