PORT TOWNSEND — The Winter Welcoming Center — a refuge providing free shelter, companionship, electricity, snacks and computers — is staying open through April 25, co-manager Ben Casserd has announced.
The downtown center, in the Pope Marine Building on the pier at Water and Madison streets, is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., offering a place to get warm as well as hot drinks, face masks, warm clothing, access to computer printers and information about community resources.
Initially planned as a wintertime haven, the center has extended its operation amid continued cold, windy weather. Casserd reported the welcoming center is seeing a daily average of 14 guests with a total of 1,617 patron visits since opening in mid-December.
The Jefferson Interfaith Action Coalition (JIAC), with support from local donors, funds the welcoming center, while the city of Port Townsend, for the second consecutive year, is leasing the Pope Marine Building to the nonprofit coalition at no charge.
The center, Casserd said Tuesday morning, is more than a place to get warm. He and the staff strive to make it a haven where people feel respected and safe — which means everyone is tested at the door for COVID-19.
Some 320 COVID tests have been administered since the welcoming center opened, Casserd said; a few people tested positive.
“We refer them to the Express Clinic for a PCR test,” he said of the Jefferson Healthcare clinic, which has the tests in a wagon outside its door at 834 Sheridan St.
This year has been a generous one in terms of donations, Casserd noted.
“The public response this year has been absolutely amazing,” he said, adding that hundreds of socks have been donated and then given to people in need.
In addition, 166 Mom’s Laundromat vouchers have been provided to people without access to a washer or dryer.
Donations of goods and money will be accepted through April 25, Casserd said, noting that socks are the most-wanted items; new underwear, tents and other camping gear in good condition are also welcome. For information, phone 360-821-1926.
Julia Cochrane, an advocate for unhoused members of the community, said she’d like to see a welcoming center open year-round — but not necessarily downtown. The Pope Marine Building has worked as a winter and early spring location, but she knows the city rents it out for various events during “festival season,” spring through fall.
She added that the JIAC will apply for grants, as it has done in the past, to fund next winter’s center. Local churches and the Jefferson Community Foundation have been supportive, Cochrane said, as have individuals: A $5,000 anonymous contribution came in this year.
Cochrane also emphasized that such support ensures the staff is paid. The managers and monitor team all have personal experience with living without shelter, she said.
Casserd, for his part, uses his skills as a certified recovery coach at and around the center. De-escalation and information are his roles, as he provides patrons with what he calls “resource cards,” with nearly 50 phone numbers and addresses.
They range from the county’s four food banks to the Washington Recovery Helpline, 866-789-1511 and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline/Veterans Crisis Line, 800-273-8255 (text 741741).
Casserd also provides information about the Recovery Cafe in Port Townsend. The cafe and community center at 939 Kearney St. is open with free meals and various support groups Wednesdays through Fridays. More details can be found at recoverycafeJC.org or by phoning 360-385-5292.
In his work at the welcoming center this season, Casserd added, he has learned more about helping people cope with a variety of problems, from domestic violence to mental health challenges. He and co-manager Lisa Anderson also ensure the center’s no-drugs — including marijuana — policy is observed.
“It’s been a really great place for me to hone my skills, but also remember I can’t do everything myself. I’m not a superhero,” he quipped.
Casserd was accompanied this week by Half Pint, the terrier who dozed on his desk inside the center. Dogs are allowed, provided they’re leashed and controlled by their owners, he noted.
“I don’t like to sugarcoat things,” Casserd said, “but we do everything we can to help our community.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or email@example.com.