Clallam County’s homeless numbers continue to drop according to staff with Serenity House of Clallam County.
Since 2006, homeless individual totals went from 561 to 308 in 2010, and down again this year to 291.
Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House, attributes the decline to agencies leading more preventative assistance services.
“We’re serving so many people early in the process that it’s essentially reducing the number of people from becoming homeless,” she said.
Numbers are down for individuals living on the street, needing emergency shelter and transitional housing. However, those at risk of homelessness rose from 136 people in 2010 to 155 this year.
Fewer families are on the street this year, with three individuals counted compared to eight in 2010.
Some categorizations of the homeless show improvements for those receiving aid, including the mentally disabled, alcohol and drug dependent, veterans and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The biggest increase was the number of chronically homeless from 53 in 2010 to 101 this year.
Wahto said this stems from using a new counting service through the Homeless Management Information System, which provides more information and allows them to find people who haven’t been counted in the past.
The number of homeless could continue to drop, Wahto said.
More than 50 new housing resources opened in Forks and Port Angeles after the last point-in-time count of the homeless.
“Even though the economic picture looks bad, the housing programs and assistance is going to keep the numbers going down,” Wahto said.
She admits though that western Clallam County has more social services than Sequim.
“Forks didn’t have much five or six years ago, but because of a determined high level of poverty and homelessness, the community got behind helping,” she said.
“We hope something will happen like that in Sequim. There’s a perception that there isn’t chronic poverty.”
The amount of people seeking assistance prior to homelessness continues to go up, which could be factors of long-term unemployment and funding reductions, Wahto said.
“There’s only so much funding,” she said.
Serenity House’s emergency shelter on Cedar Street is the only one in Sequim, but some agencies do provide funding for emergency shelter in hotels and motels.
But relief, she said, comes from a good supply and variety of affordable housing in Sequim.
“Besides Elk Creek Apartments and other family affordable homes built for the low income, it’s not too bad. Prices have stabilized,” she said.
“Still a lot of families are working in the big box stores and still commuting into the community.”
Jody Moss, executive director of the United Way of Clallam County, said she’s cautiously optimistic about the homeless numbers decreasing. She said with budget season upon government agencies, one of the first things to be cut is human services.
“When you cut funding the need for human services goes up,” Moss said.
She said the United Way’s partner agencies like Healthy Families of Clallam County and Forks Abuse, are considered very valuable to the county and all work collaboratively especially when times are tough.
“We try not to duplicate services and share when possible,” Moss said.
This year, United Way set a fundraising goal of just over $1 million.
“We really are concerned about what fundraising is going to result in. People really are exhausted by the economy,” Moss said. “I don’t think any of us know what the impact is going to be.”
One agency is trying to get its foot more in Sequim’s door to help prevent homelessness.
Becca Korby, executive director of Healthy Families of Clallam County, said they provide services such as domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse advocacy-based counseling to people here. Domestic violence is one of the leading reasons for homelessness, she said.
In 2010, Healthy Families assisted 91 domestic violence victims and 65 sexual assault victims in Sequim area.
Healthy Families also provides an emergency shelter and transitional housing in Port Angeles, but changes are in store for it. It is the second-leading shelter provider in the county, providing about 580 bed nights a month.
“Sheltering as we do it is communal and it’s not working well,” Korby said.
“Traumatized families need more privacy … It’s not the ideal way to provide an effective way to provide shelter and empower them to get into permanent, supportive housing quickly.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just awarded a split three-year grant worth $250,000 to Healthy Families and Forks Abuse. Korby said the grant allows them some funds to redesign emergency shelters and segue into a better shelter service later.
A $9,000 grant from the City of Sequim helped supplement a portion of the local expenditures, Korby said. Funds came from the city’s Health and Human Services funding.
“Money from our local governments is imperative to underwrite the services we provide,” Korby said. “We need the support of the community, which doesn’t always mean money. We want people to become intolerant of the violence. To tell when there is someone being hurt. To call for the services of people like us to help.”
She said they also are looking for apartments, duplexes and home space for individual families to be placed temporarily.
Healthy Families of Clallam County presents its Silent Witness Vigil and Exhibit from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the corner of Washington Street and Sequim Avenue.
Contact Healthy Families, 1210 E. Front St., Suite C, at 452-3811; Serenity House, 2321 W. 18th St., Port Angeles, at 452-7224; or United Way of Clallam County, 102 E. First St., Port Angeles, at 457-3011.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.