Funding needed for Port Townsend homeless shelter

Operation at Legion Hall to close April 30

PORT TOWNSEND — The homeless shelter in the basement of the American Legion Hall in Port Townsend is set to close at the end of April unless additional funding can be found to keep the program running.

The shelter has been in the basement of the Marvin G. Shields Memorial Post 26 on Monroe Street in downtown Port Townsend for more than a decade, but the shelter’s operator, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), doesn’t have the funds to pay for another year-long lease.

“We have limited funds that will not cover the full lease cycle,” said Tammy Lidster, OlyCAP’s interim executive director.

The shelter costs $25,000 to $30,000 a month to operate, Lidster said, which had previously been covered by grants, including pandemic relief funds, but those dollars are no longer available. OlyCAP’s current lease runs through June, but shelter operations are set to end April 30. Even if funding were provided, Lidster said it’s not clear that OlyCAP would be able to continue operating the shelter.

“We would have to hire more staff,” Lidster said, as some staff members were let go when COVID dollars ran out.

OlyCAP currently doesn’t have enough monitors for the American Legion shelter and the Caswell-Brown tiny home village on Mill Road. Lidster said OlyCAP is working with community partners, including other service organizations, Jefferson County and the City of Port Angeles to find a solution, but the details have yet to be settled.

“All of those questions are up in the air,” Lidster said.

Bob Saring, club manager of the hall, said the American Legion is open to hosting the shelter for another year either with OlyCAP or another organization.

“We’d be interested in talking to them about that,” Saring said. “Either way, it would be fine with us. We just want to make plans.”

This year might be the last year the American Legion site is needed, as OlyCAP has plans to build a permanent homeless shelter at the Caswell-Brown village. But that project still needs about $2.2 million before construction can begin, Lidster said.

Requests to the federal government are in the works, and once funding is secured, Lidster said the project could be completed within a year.

The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners discussed the matter at its Monday meeting, and the three commissioners said they’re willing to commit funds to the project, but the county doesn’t have the money to fully fund operations for several months.

“We don’t have a funding source identified,” said District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton, who sits on OlyCAP’s Board of Directors. “I think if there was a possible solution, it’ll involve different organizations.”

Brotherton said Wednesday he hadn’t heard back from the American Legion about possible paths forward, but if the shelter is not able to continue into the coming months, the community will have to find a way to support the local homeless population.

Lidster said OlyCAP is working with shelter residents to find alternative housing, but there’s a lack of available spaces. The Caswell-Brown Village is nearly at its 50-person capacity, and it already has a waiting list.

If shelter space is not available, it can constrain law enforcement’s ability to clear encampments on public property. A 2018 court case, Bosie v. Martin, found that homeless campers can’t be forced to move from public property if no shelter space is available locally.

Brotherton said he and other county officials are meeting with local partners to find a solution and that more information will likely be available next week.

“It’s a live problem that we’re working on, trying to preserve folks’ dignity,” Brotherton said. “The bottom rungs of the housing continuum are no less important than the higher rungs.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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