Staff and volunteers at Serenity House Thrift Store say there’s been an increase in criminal activity at its 551 W. Washington St. property in recent months ranging from illegal dumping to theft of gas and vehicle parts.
Deputy police chief Mike Hill reports Serenity staff called for police 25 times since January for thefts, illegal dumping, trespassing and more.
A growing trend nationwide and statewide for thieves is stealing catalytic converters, Hill noted: “They’re a hot item right now.”
Serenity’s store had one stolen and another damaged about a month ago from its delivery truck, store manager Belle Muñoz said. Repairs cost about $4,000.
“That’s a lot for a nonprofit,” assistant manager Phil Bishop said.
Serenity House of Clallam County’s goal, according to executive director Sharon Maggard, is to help house people through shelters and permanent housing.
“Whatever I have to pay to correct things to keep things going is money not covering operations,” Maggard said.
In the meantime, staff were forced to use an older truck that can only go up to 35 miles per hour and not travel on the highway. Pickups were reduced to a few households a day too, staff said.
Car part and gasoline theft through the years in Sequim ebbs and flows, Hill said.
Looking at the 31 reported thefts in April in the City of Sequim, he said about half came from businesses reporting them.
“A lot of it depends on the business: If it has a loss prevention person who is active, it can drive up recovery numbers,” Hill said.
Reported thefts were down the previous two years due to the pandemic, he said, but comparing 2021 and 2022 months are still fairly consistent, such as 15 reported thefts in May 2021 and 16 in May 2022.
Dumping V. Donating
Muñoz said police have been helpful with their efforts, and Serenity House Thrift Store staff constantly pore over video surveillance to assist them. Staff have seen an increase in illegal dumping, too.
During donation hours —10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday — Serenity House accepts 80-90 percent of donations, Muñoz said.
However, people have been leaving bags of mostly garbage, soiled bedding and other unwanted items by the donation area, the furniture loading dock, atop their dumpster and in the field behind their buildings.
About two weeks ago, Muñoz said some items were left during one evening and throughout the next morning 14 different people went through the items, scattering them throughout the property.
She said staff go through discarded bags looking for identifiable names and/or addresses to return the items and/or report to the police. Otherwise, they pay for the expense to dump the items.
Muñoz said when they don’t accept items during regular hours it’s typically because they’re full and need time to sort it.
As for illegal dumping, she said, sometimes it’s a few times a week and other weeks not at all.
When it does happen, Maggard estimated it costs Serenity House hundreds of dollars to take items to the dump.
When donating, Muñoz has a few requests — items should be clean, not broken, without mothballs and/or a smoky smell.
She said during the pandemic, they saw more merchandise coming in but less shoppers, but they’ve since leveled off to pre-2020 levels this year.
The Thrift Store, at its current location for nine years, has seen a few individuals sleeping on their site either on their deck, behind a building or under a bush in recent months.
Maggard said it’s been one to two people up to a few times a month.
Staff always ask if an individual needs anything, they alert on-site case managers (9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday), and direct the individual to services, Muñoz said.
However, most of the time, individuals don’t accept services, she said.
Maggard said the “why” depends on the person. Some are claustrophobic and some don’t want to be around people, while others have mental health issues and/or have a stigma attached to a shelter.
For criminal charges, Maggard said, “normally, we don’t try to do something to make homeless life harder than it is.”
She said they’ve worked hard to overcome stigmas for their 24/7 shelter at 2321 W. 18th St., Port Angeles. It’s expanded for up to 160 people and averages about 72-80 a night, she said.
Their goal at the shelter is to feed and shower visitors along with helping bus them to appointments and services, Maggard said.
Serenity House helped almost 3,500 people receive temporary and permanent housing and other services last year, she said.
Muñoz said a previous mindset was to simply “help the homeless, but now it’s to keep them in permanent housing.”
“Their success rates are higher,” she said.
Serenity House operates homes in Port Angeles and Sequim, including Sunbelt Apartments, Maloney Heights, and Evergreen Family Village.
Maggard said they also support individuals and families living in individual homes, too.
Serenity House is the beneficiary of Olympic Cellars’ Saturday, July 23, concert with Fat Chance Band. Tickets are available at olympiccellars.com with proceeds supporting Serenity’s roofing project.
Maggard said most of their buildings need new roofs and the Thrift Store “is in dire need of a roof.”
For more about Serenity House, visit serenityhouseclallam.org.