At the corner of Taylor and Water streets in downtown Port Townsend, there sits a bench. Today the bench is decorated with flowers and a sculpture in honor of Alyssa Reed, who frequently slept there.
A few years ago, there was a picture in the Leader of a homeless individual sleeping on this same bench. That was Alyssa. A local artist made a sculpture of drift wood and a small wrapped cocoon that captured Alyssa's vulnerable self against the tides of life. It's also on the bench as part of the memorial.
Alyssa was one of our own. She grew up in the community and was a Boiler Room youth. She was a musician who loved to sing and play guitar. And she was good at it. When she was a teenager, she was in a fire in an RV that burned her hands; and the smoke she inhaled almost destroyed her voice. But she kept on playing and singing in spite of the pain and trauma.
She was also a client of Discovery Behavioral Health since way back when it was still known as Jefferson Mental Health. She was served at various times by DSHS, OlyCAP, the Justice System, the Fairgrounds Campground, and Jefferson Healthcare. They all were supposed to be her "support network."
But she fell through the cracks.
On Friday, the Kitsap County courts released her to her family. She went to stay with some "friends" for the weekend. She was all set to enter an inpatient drug treatment program on Monday.
May 10, her body is at Harrison Hospital where they will be withdrawing life support and transplanting her vital organs to other patients. Her strong heart. Her lungs. Her very physical being...
How many times have we, good citizens of Port Townsend, walked past or ignored homeless individuals sitting on the benches or gathering at the Park and Ride. How many times have our various agencies said, "Not our job"?
The city and county declared a "Housing Emergency" in order to pass a levy. The levy failed, but the emergency still exists. The Comprehensive Plan adopted the concept of "Housing First" in which it has been proven again and again that once individuals with mental illnesses or drug addiction or physical frailties have access to stable supportive housing, they can recover and become fully participating citizens in our community, rather than costing thousands of dollars for ER, jail, or court costs at the public expense.
We have money for roads and improvements that will bring tourists to town and to our vacation rentals. But the development/infrastructure costs of building affordable housing units for our workforce, seniors, young adults, and Section 8 subsidized families is so exorbitant that we can't afford to build neighborhoods of tiny homes or multi-family units that serve these members of our community.
Workers turn down good jobs – teachers, pharmacists, mental health social workers – because they can't find affordable housing.
Our social service agencies are unable to place those most needing housing into affordable or subsidized units because they simply don't exist in Jefferson County. Even those with housing vouchers, including Vets, are unable to find affordable housing units here.
So some of our own youth and young adults, like Alyssa, sleep on our park benches or tents or old RV's parked on the streets until they are rousted out.
Rest in Peace, Alyssa. But for those of us serving, governing, living and working in Jefferson County, may we know no peace until all of our people are housed and we have truly addressed the Housing Emergency in our home town.