PORT ANGELES — The benefits of permanent housing as opposed to shelter housing highlighted a general election forum this week between two candidates for Port Angeles City Council.
First-term incumbent Kate Dexter, a Peninsula College nursing program specialist, and challenger John Procter, a retired veterinarian, debated the issue Tuesday via Zoom at the Port Angeles Business Association event.
Procter reiterated his goal, as he has in past forums, to build a day-night shelter like one in Auburn, citing “the vagrancy and drug culture growing in our streets” and warning that Port Angeles is heading in the same downward spiral as Seattle and King County.
Procter said the four council incumbents up for re-election, including Dexter, have not adequately addressed the issue.
He said his two plans include “a reactive, low-cost plan — see a problem, and find solutions,” and a “proactive” effort developed by Kent Hay, Auburn homeless Outreach Program administrator.
It includes a no-camping-on-public-property ordinance and establishment of a day-night shelter.
Procter said he has scouted out buildings in Port Angeles that could house the facility.
Dexter, the council-appointed mayor, said there may be some components of the proposal that are workable.
“I also think it’s important to remember that housing is the ultimate solution, having enough housing,” she said.
“Sheltering is not housing,” Dexter continued.
“Most recently, I want to point to the fact that we have used our [American Rescue Plan Act] funds specifically to provide support for [the] Peninsula Behavioral Health project and a project near Shane Park for the Peninsula Housing Authority.
“It’s just a very big problem that it’s going to take some time to solve.”
Procter said mental health issues and drugs are at the root of homelessness.
“Housing is not going to cure most of these people, or they would go into housing and they would still have drug problems and perhaps mental problems,” he said.
“They’re going to have to be prodded, so to speak. This program developed by Mr. Kent Hays, it pushes them.”
The candidates discussed what the City Council could do to clean up homeless encampments.
“We have to make it uncomfortable for them to be camping out there,” Procter said.
Dexter said city officials recently discussed the issue onsite with Peabody Creek-area residents.
“We are concerned about it,” she said. “I think the long-term solution is still housing, and I know that gets frustrating to people because it’s not an immediate solution,” she said.
“I think partnerships are going to be key in a solution for this,” Dexter said, adding that trying “to get as many people moving from, at a minimum, from outdoor homeless to sheltered homeless would be an important part of the solution.”
Procter pointed to the 2019 shutdown of the Tempest supportive housing facility on North Albert Street as an example of failed housing.
“These people need to be pushed into a resource center,” he said.
Dexter responded that she supports permanent supportive housing, “which is, you get a roof over your head and there are some services that come along with that to help you be successful,” she said.
She added if Tempest ever reopened, it would need on-site facility supervisors, and tenants would need mental health and other support services.
“Mayor Dexter has just reiterated basically what I pointed out about the Kent Hays program over in Auburn,” Procter responded.
Asked if more should be done to allow police to enforce no-camping rules, Dexter praised city police for doing a good job of doing what they can to prevent camping.
“I have to admit that I have not read our current code in the recent past to know exactly what the rules are, and I should have done that in advance of this, knowing that we often get into these kinds of questions, so I will commit to doing that after this,” she said. “We’re working on a code rewrite, so it might look a little different.”
Dexter said Procter’s plan might provide a solution, but she added a small minority will always be outdoor homeless.
Procter, asked what it meant to make camping uncomfortable for the homeless, said that, in Auburn, they have 48 hours to move as a first notice and can eventually be charged with criminal trespass.
“They can either come into the program or they can leave town if they want to live outside,” Procter said. “If you want to camp, go to another town, not to our town.”
Dexter said she does not favor a solution that creates a problem for someone else.
“I have a problem with criminalizing homelessness when we do not have a viable solution for everyone right now,” she added.
In an interview, Hays said Wednesday the city of Auburn contracts with the city food bank to run the day-night shelter in a leased building that includes a therapeutic court operated by King County District Court.
The cost of the Auburn program was unavailable Wednesday from Hays.
Procter said he did not know how much his plan would cost Port Angeles.
The candidates also addressed workforce housing, regulations on airbnbs, potential fees on owners of long-vacant parcels, and described how they are different as candidates.
A YouTube recording of the forum can be found here.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.