Portable showers brought to Mill Road homeless camp

Posted 11/23/22

The Caswell-Brown Village is entering a new phase.

A cleaner phase.

A portable shower unit has been brought to the village site and is scheduled to be hooked up to septic Wednesday, Nov. …

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Portable showers brought to Mill Road homeless camp

Residents of the Caswell-Brown Village managed to complete a move downhill to the new location over a brief two day span last week.
Residents of the Caswell-Brown Village managed to complete a move downhill to the new location over a brief two day span last week.
Leader photo by Derek Firenze
Posted

The Caswell-Brown Village is entering a new phase.

A cleaner phase.

A portable shower unit has been brought to the village site and is scheduled to be hooked up to septic Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Residents of the encampment on Mill Road completed a move last week to the new campsite downhill from the old one that also includes a hook-up to city water.

The earlier, first phase of the project was the “emergency phase,” said Robin Pangborn, the Olympic Community Action Program’s shelter manager for Caswell-Brown.

“I put them there kind of as a landing pad while we develop Phase Two,” Pangborn said of the previous location, which was only able to provide sanitation in the form of portable toilets and hand-washing stations.

PAST CHALLENGES

OlyCAP bought the 30 acres that houses both the upper and lower sites for $602,000 from a private landowner to provide an emergency homeless shelter for people who were being evicted from campsites at the fairgrounds.

According to an agreement between the fairgrounds and OlyCAP, all residents were told to vacate the fairgrounds in entirety by Oct. 1, 2021 or risk being trespassed as squatters.

Earlier reporting from The Leader noted the difficulties residents had with Caswell-Brown, particularly the lack of showers.

“They were using the fairgrounds, the YMCA, or they’d go to a friend’s house. Things of that nature,” Pangborn said of how residents coped with hygiene during the first phase.

Recently, however, the fairgrounds closed its showers for the winter season.

In the last year, the Caswell-Brown Village has provided residents with services like sanitation, electricity, garbage disposal, potable water from 500-gallon water tanks kept on site, as well as 24/7 monitoring.

“I quickly learned that I needed to have monitoring 24/7 and to actually set it up kind of as a gated [community] where visitors would check in. We’d know who’s on the property at all times, try to bring a little bit of manageability to the site. Which was not there at the fairgrounds,” Pangborn said.

The people at the site reside in a mixture of tents, fifth wheels, recreational vehicles, and campers, Pangborn said, with an additional 10 tiny houses slated for arrival in Dec. 1 to help get people out of tents into something warmer.

Fourteen adults and one child moved down to the new location which includes space for 40 campsites with a maximum of 50 individuals.

ON THE HORIZON

As part of Phase Two, which the move and portable showers mark the start of, the hope is to eventually have permanent buildings for things like a kitchen, laundry, offices for staff, and more.

“There’s two parts to Phase Two,” Pangborn said. “We’d hoped it would be one phase but the funding and the project just kind of slowed a little bit as permitting and approval and all that had to happen.”

“Phase Two B is when we’re hoping to have permanent buildings with office space for clients in the program to meet with other outreach agencies on site,” she added.

In the meantime, residents make do with a large, enclosed tent for their kitchen area with a heater and a wood stove inside and a plan for a second stove at the other end.

“Just need to find a sustainable wood source, that’s a challenge for us,” Pangborn said.

While heating is its own challenge, the large, communal tents have had their share of difficulties.

One previous tent was destroyed by a former resident during a mental health episode, Pangborn said, whereas another was shredded during the recent windstorm.

The necessary permanent structures planned for Phase Two B would also include a new set of showers and bathrooms.

Once those are in place, the portable shower unit will hit the road.

“Brinnon, Quilcene; wherever it needs to go to allow community members to come in from their tents or encampments or wherever they are and use it. And not have to be a part of a program in order to use it,” Pangborn explained.

With the lower site stabilized with permanent structures, the upper site the campers relocated from will then be developed on an even larger scale.

“Phase Three,” Pangborn said, “is going to be like a 10,000 square foot emergency shelter with permanent supportive housing units within it.”

That dream is still being planned out but could include things like male and female dorms for emergency shelter use with individual and family units for permanent housing.

Even when that site is completed, however, the lower site will still continue to be operated as transitional housing with residents agreeing to no more than a two-year stay.

“This is always and has been transitional meaning that the people are temporary but the site is permanent,” Pangborn said.

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