PORT ANGELES — What does one do about homelessness, candidates for Port Angeles City Council seats were asked at a recent Clallam County League of Women Voters forum.
“At other forums, some candidates have talked about cleaning up the streets,” moderator Sue Erzen said to Port Angeles City Council candidates at the Thursday online event, tapped into by 45 participants.
“How do you do that, and where do you intend to put the homeless that you want to remove from the streets and parks?” she asked.
The question addressed what has become this election year a stock answer for dealing with the city’s much-discussed homeless population — and took it a step further.
It was one of a half-dozen queries asked of the candidates involved in council races on a ballot that will be mailed to more than 58,870 voters Wednesday and which must be delivered to a ballot box or postmarked by Primary Election Day on Aug. 3. The primary election narrows the field of candidates to two who will face each other in the November general election.
Most questions — all of which were limited to one-minute answers — revolved around housing and homelessness, a theme so common at forums this primary election season that candidates were asked in one question to name their top issue besides homelessness.
To that, some of those running for Port Angeles City Council Positions 1 and 3 answered housing. (Candidates running for Positions 2 and 4 will be covered in a story published Tuesday.)
“Housing ties directly into it,” said Position 1 appointed incumbent LaTrisha Suggs, a Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe environmental restoration planner, adding that 3,000 new housing units will be needed in the city by 2030.
A municipal code update should address the issue, she said.
Position 1 candidate Adam Garcia also named housing as the top issue. He said more accessory dwelling units could help solve the problem.
John DeBoer, also running for Position 1, said he has experienced homelessness and managed the Serenity House of Clallam County overnight shelter.
DeBoer’s other top issue was fluoridation.
Despite there being no public calls for refluoridating the city’s water in nearly four years, and no city council members have suggested it be reborn, DeBoer predicted “it will come up again.”
Garcia said organizations exist to help homeless individuals, adding that having local law enforcement engage the homeless with services is part of the solution.
(A social worker has been embedded into the Port Angeles Police Department since 2018, accompanying police to help homeless individuals find solutions.)
Homeless individuals “are just down on their luck,” Suggs said.
“It’s not an easy answer. Our current council and I being on the council have supported recommendations that have come from our police department.”
DeBoer said some of the homeless “have reached the point in life where, you know, going to jail is a step up in life. All they care about is if you can smoke in jail and then they’re out again and then life is uncertain again.”
Jena Stamper, a licensed massage therapist and business owner, and Jason Thompson, the McCrorie Carpet One general manager and owner of Fogtown Coffee Bar, are running for the Position 3 seat held by incumbent Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin.
“When I say clean up our streets, I don’t necessarily mean move people off the streets,” Stamper said, pointing out the “dingy” appearance of East Front Street at the city’s eastern boundary.
“I think that cleaning up our streets and kind of looking into that broken-window theory and taking care of that decrepit building downtown is probably one of the first things I would do as a council member.”
Later she said: “If people with mental health are not able to make decisions like an 18-year-old person, if they have the mentality of a child, we should treat them as a child and maybe they need more direction into the programs that are available to help them.”
Schromen-Wawrin said his second most important issue was that the city’s general fund does not match needed expenditures. He blamed past city councils for leaving the city with $76 million in deferred street maintenance while the city has a $20 million general fund budget.
“The challenge going forward is to balance the general fund without balancing it on the backs of our poorest residents as a result of our regressive, upside-down state sales tax system or our state tax system in general,” he said.
Schromen-Wawrin said there is too little sheltered housing for homeless individuals. He added that shelters are more expensive than providing housing.
Transitional housing can only go so far, said Thompson, “or else it’s just a cliff off the edge, or we’re just repeating the cycle over and over again,” he said.
“Bridging the gap between the end of traditional housing into affordable housing is key here.”
Thompson said his priority other than homelessness is rebuilding trust with the community.
“We’re stuck on a lot of big-picture ideas, and we don’t have enough people on the ground level working on them.”
A recording of the forum is at https://lwvcla.clubexpress.com.
The Clallam County elections office has produced a voter guide available at clallam.net/Auditor/Elections.html
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].