This week is the Annual Point in Time Count (PIT) for Washington State. The goal is to count the number of folks living in substandard housing (meaning without access to plumbing, heating, and/ or other utilities), in vehicles, or outdoors altogether. The past two counts have identified over 50 people in San Juan County who self-identified in this category.

We anticipate that this year that number may increase significantly, in part due to easing of Covid restrictions so more people are out and about at the Library, Food Bank, Resource Center, and Schools—all places where folks can fill out a PIT survey. Additionally, Heather Stansbury, the coordinator for the COHO project, has dedicated time to reach out for participants this year.

Orcas is fortunate to have OPAL Community Land Trust working diligently for decades to provide affordable housing, as they continue to do so with several projects in the works. But as the PIT shows, there are still many in need of shelter. Having a basic understanding of the number of neighbors who are underhoused helps the community develop supports that meet some of the pressing needs, such as the Cold Weather Shelter at the Community Church, which provides a warm place to stay when temperatures drop below freezing (it will be open Saturday-Tuesday this week), providing food that works for folks with limited access to kitchen facilities through the Food Bank, ensuring access to public showers, and providing assistance connecting to other support services through the Orcas Community Resource Center. The Senior Center also works with many elderly neighbors who are living in substandard housing.

What the PIT Count does not include are those workers who have moved away due to either the cost or availability of housing. Nor does it include the many Seniors who find themselves needing to downsize due to age, health, or income, and don’t have an option to do so on island. Housing insecurity runs throughout this community as it does throughout the Country and it requires ingenuity and commitment to expand our response to meet the growing needs. I would love to hear your ideas.

I would be remiss not to mention the passing of several remarkable islanders — Bruce Orchid, Irmgard Connelly, Dave Durand, Roy Schwitters, Steve Hulley, and several others who have left us recently. They invested in this community during their lifetimes leaving the island a better place, and I am deeply grateful.

I hope you have a lovely weekend—