REAL Team provides much-needed support | Guest Viewpoint

Doug Edelstein
Posted 7/6/22

One of the difficult problems this community faces when trying to deal with the problems of homelessness and desperation is the challenge of doing effective outreach to people who are most vulnerable …

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REAL Team provides much-needed support | Guest Viewpoint


One of the difficult problems this community faces when trying to deal with the problems of homelessness and desperation is the challenge of doing effective outreach to people who are most vulnerable — those who live in the forests, parks, hideaways, nooks and crannies of the city, and privately in homes where they can’t reach out themselves for hope. 

These folks, some of whom have addiction or behavioral/mental health problems, are the hardest group to connect with the services they need not just to survive, but start a program to get back on their feet and begin self-sustained growth.

Now a relatively new and hopeful program is trying to reach those people and get them the support they need. 

REAL Team (Recovery.Empowerment.Advocacy.Linkage) is a new outfit operating out of Discovery Behavioral Health. In their own words, they are a “community-based, street-outreach program.” Their outreach professionals go out to wherever the individuals can be found.

How do they do it? They are purveyors of hope.

The REAL Team core consists of just four outreach workers and new program manager Alex Lockwood, who doubles as an administrator and skilled mental health counselor. They plan to add staff and go 24/7 by next year. Everyone brings different life experiences to the job — including lived experience — plus an unconditional commitment to the people they serve.

Day to day, their job is often meeting highly stressed, sometimes despairing people. Recently all of them set up a refuge campsite in the forest for a woman trying to get away from a dangerous relationship. (One of the workers donated their own tent.) They moved another at-risk person just last week. They go out where the need is, where they daily confront the brutality of the human condition, connecting with people living on the rough edges of existence.

Fortunately, they don’t do it in isolation. The team connects with navigators from both the county and city police, mainly to help each other identify people who need help.

“When I approach a campsite I don’t know, I just call out, ‘Hi, I’m a hope dealer,’” said Jaymie Fowler, one of the recovery coaches.

She and fellow recovery coach Sara Soper begin by just trying to connect with people. No pressure, no official spiel, and certainly no judgment. They know a light approach is a must, that you don’t just barge into a campsite and announce you are their rescuer.

REAL Team workers also don’t make promises they can’t keep.

“We don’t have magic housing,” Sara said. “Often there isn’t any. What we do is connect people to services, and after we have established a relationship of trust, we do everything we can to help people reconnect with hope.”

Specifically, that can mean material things like food, hygiene supplies, maybe fuel — items that keep people alive short-term. More importantly, they provide a human connection — and that, more often than people may think, can kindle hope. From there, REAL Teamers connect people with the services they need to take the enormous, often faltering, sometimes terrifying first steps.

REAL Team members are charismatic, strong, positive — and determinedly focused on the worthiness, recovery, and rights of all the people they serve.

This can be tough and personally costly work. It’s hard when you know you can’t give clients what they need most, which often is housing. REAL Team members have to be real, above all else. They support each other in the reality that the road to recovery often means relapse.

REAL Team operates using a harm-reduction, trauma-informed approach — recognizing that trauma has affected the lives of their clients to an unusual and often extreme degree. Homelessness itself is exceedingly stressful and often traumatic; the process of becoming homeless is often a cascade of trauma.

Despair, therefore — that condition of human misery where one cannot summon the will to do the simple things one might need to do to survive — is a reality for many of their clients.

Life on the REAL Team means saving lives in a literal sense. It is easy to die of homelessness in Port Townsend.

Discovery Behavioral Health allows the public to contribute money directly to REAL Team. I urge readers to do it. REAL Team, added onto the rest of the existing services agencies here in Port Townsend, is looking like an important part of an answer to the moral question of how we can help the most vulnerable of us.

To contribute money or supplies, call Discovery Behavioral Health at 360-385-0321.

(Doug Edelstein is a retired history teacher and volunteer outreach worker and homeless advocate.)