By Kirk Boxleitner
Even before Jefferson County’s portion of the 2024 nationwide Point In Time count was completed, members of the Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, were …
By Kirk Boxleitner
Even before Jefferson County’s portion of the 2024 nationwide Point In Time count was completed, members of the Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, were already taking stock of the early returns.
Each year, the count provides a snapshot of the number of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness at a single “point in time” in January.
OlyCAP Housing Coordinator Jim Funaro emphasized that while any official determinations would be premature prior to the count’s completion, he did notice a number of people he’d previously met as fellow volunteers are now among the unhoused.
“It feels like some folks who might have been considered middle-class before COVID could have run out of resources recently,” Funaro said. “There are a number of both broader and more local factors at work, from the economy as a whole, to personal incomes and the affordable housing market in particular.”
The Jan. 26 midday meal served by the Recovery Cafe of Jefferson County, just down the hill from the Port Townsend Food Bank, was attended by Funaro, Consolidated Homeless Grant Coordinator Kari Massey, and OlyCAP Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator Zachary Cawley-Clark.
An OlyCAP member for three years, Funaro estimated between 25-30 volunteers took part in conducting the count from Jan. 25-31. Those volunteers included Dove House Advocacy Services and Bayside Housing Services, as well as the REAL (Recovery, Empowerment, Advocacy, Linkage) and LEAD (Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion) teams.
“We’ve also got Discovery Behavioral Healthcare involved,” Funaro said. “Because we’re a rural county, we can’t just go to the clusters of services you’d find in a more urban community. We need to go out to where each of the various groups of unhoused folks might be. Fortunately, each of the organizations participating in the Point In Time count already interacts with those folks in different ways, so they can meet them where they are.”
Funaro noted that OlyCAP works with clients trying to obtain housing, while Dove House works with those who have experienced domestic violence, and LEAD works with those who have had dealings with the legal system.
“There are the folks who bed down at the American Legion Hall, while for others, the volunteers have to seek out their encampments,” Funaro said. “We have four different food banks throughout Jefferson County, from Brinnon and Quilcene to the Tri-Area and Port Townsend, but they have different distribution days during the week. That’s why we need a week to do our count, rather than a single day.”
Cawley-Clark, who’s been involved with OlyCAP for just a handful of months, was struck by how geographically widespread the problem of homelessness is, although he was significantly less surprised by how much of a stigma is associated with public assistance for younger generations, such as his own.
“No one should regard being counted in the Point In Time as an admission of weakness,” Cawley-Clark said. “Because of the stereotypes that are perpetuated about younger people not being as independent, many of us don’t want to admit when we need help. But by agreeing to be counted, those who are unhoused can help others, because obtaining an accurate count of the county’s homelessness can generate more funding for programs to address such problems.”
Cawley-Clark and Funaro agreed that, even if someone might believe they fall outside of the parameters for organizations such as OlyCAP, those people should nonetheless explore the assistance options available to them.
Funaro also expressed enthusiasm for further developing partnerships between organizations such as OlyCAP, Dove House and the Recovery Cafe, so that they might work together, not only to respond more effectively to issues related to homelessness, but also to help prevent many types of homelessness from occurring in the first place.
“I like it here,” Funaro said, as he enjoyed his lunch at the Recovery Cafe. “Here, you’ll find food, laughter, company and acceptance.”
Funaro’s initial impressions of this year’s count indicated that both younger and older people have been more susceptible to homelessness, with a number of younger folks turning to “couch-surfing” to keep a roof over their heads. He and Massey expressed their appreciation to volunteers and the community as a whole for their engagement.
Massey pointed out that the Jefferson County branch of the Olympic Peninsula YMCA and the state Department of Social and Health Services likewise seek to remedy issues related to housing insecurity. OlyCAP works with landlords to try to prevent late rent payments from sending tenants to the streets.
“We all live in a beautiful part of the country here, but too many of us are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless ourselves,” Massey said. “It could be a car wreck, or even just extra expenses. What the Point In Time count does is help us measure the demographics of this problem, which is bigger than just our community.”
The OlyCAP members were joined at their lunch table by Charles Little, who is all too familiar with these factors firsthand.
Little works in the construction industry, and previously lived in the area before moving away. Although he gained employment during his time away, Little lost his job after returning to the area. With a count of theft on his record, he admitted it’s been difficult to get hired since.
“Your past catches up with you,” said Little, whose trailer home was stolen, forcing him to sleep in his truck with his dog, whom he estimated eats “about a third of what I eat.”
“All walks of life can become homeless,” he said. “Nobody knows everyone’s backstories. What matters is what we’re willing to do to help each other out.”