PORT ANGELES – In a muddy, abandoned campsite just above Peabody Creek, Joe DeScala leaned over his task under gray December skies.
“Here’s another needle,” he said, crouching down.
Within minutes, he spotted two more syringes stuck in wood and dirt in the tiny clearing, the soft static of flowing water in the background.
“We have sharps containers and stuff for all that stuff when we find it,” DeScala said Friday morning.
“But it’s not easy to work in that stuff, you know, scattered all over the hill, so we’ll have to, you know, go back and forth and take care of that.”
A saturated Mariners jacket and a jar of Algood peanut butter lay among the debris, about a tenth of a mile from where the trail begins in a retail parking lot. There was DeScala’s pickup, waiting for its trip to the transfer station.
Closer to the creek, all that was left of an estimated ton of trash picked up by DeScala and his crew were a few crates overflowing with signs of everyday life – empty food containers, an empty personal bag, a returnable grocery cart. at Safeway.
The ad for a mortgage company, painful in these climates, was affixed to the side of the cart.
“Stop renting” home ownership is for everyone! He said, illustrated with two widely smiling faces.
DeScala, a former pastor of Mended Church in Port Angeles, is on a mission to remove trash from abandoned homeless settlements like those that defile Peabody, an urban cove that once carried salmon but now takes in homeless people in some regions.
Earlier last week, the Port Angeles High School graduate and CrossFit enthusiast was a guest of the Port Angeles Business Association, describing to a Zoom audience his plans and 4PA (4PA.org), the group he founded. to achieve its goal. 4PA is funded by non-tax deductible donations.
DeScala, 46, whose grandfather was one of the founders and builders of Laurel Lanes bowling alley in Port Angeles, wants to expand his efforts in 2022 by creating a transitional housing site he would call Touchstone Campus.
No property for accommodation has been selected. No plan has been made for this.
“There are a lot of places that have been left with no one inside, and stuff has been there for months, and it’s rotting away,” he said on Friday.
“That’s what we’re trying to clean up right now.”
A former Wilder Auto car salesman who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, DeScala handed over the reins of his church at the end of October, retaining the duties of the management team while laying the groundwork for 4PA.
He has already cleared areas with teams of volunteers.
He said he noticed encampments while hiking trails in the woods and spoke to residents who had raised concerns, who were also at the center of the recently concluded elections for city council.
4PA’s board members are Levi and Ashley Liberty, Justin and Dei Snook and Jena Stamper, who unsuccessfully ran for a board position.
“For a community our size, we have a fair amount of services to extend to homeless people,” he said.
“I’m not here to talk about all the reasons people get homeless,” he said. “There are many reasons, but at the same rate they are human beings, they have lost some kind of self-esteem and dignity, and we can help them restore them. ”
To that end, he said he would hire homeless people to be part of his cleaning crews or have a job at his planned Touchstone campus.
“One thing that I really noticed and felt to be drastically neglected was the cleaning up of the city,” he said at the meeting, citing “the accumulation of debris and trash in areas that are not necessarily directly visible to the public, although some are, but much of it is just off the beaten track, but it’s always in places the public goes, coves, valleys, areas like these have gotten really bad.
Its website paints a murky picture of city life.
“Something is out of balance in Port Angeles,” he said.
“The population of non-lodged individuals continues to increase, which has resulted in damage and dangers to our public spaces and our natural spaces,” he continues.
“Businesses in our downtown have been hit hard by the growing homeless population. Thefts, assaults and property damage have taken their toll. ”
In an interview last week, DeScala said he based this claim on his conversations with fellow business owners.
He reminded PABA attendees that it is not a crime to be homeless, a point echoed in a separate interview last week with Police Chief Brian Smith, who underlined it as a “message. to remember “to discuss criminal activity and homelessness.
“Looking at someone and trying to characterize them or determine if their situation is this or that is also unfair if you don’t know that person,” Smith said.
“It’s not a new topic that companies are dealing with criminal activity around burglaries and thefts and things like that,” he said.
“There is a link between illegal and dangerous drugs and burglary and theft. I didn’t use the word not housed in that sentence, ”he said. “We deal with behavior and what is against the law. ”
It is illegal to camp or pitch a tent on city property, he said, as well as to take drugs in public.
If, while cleaning an area, people see what appears to be a person’s belongings, they should leave those items alone, Smith said.
DeScala said he follows this rule. He said local law enforcement is aware of 4PA’s efforts, and over the years has established relationships with the Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic and Rediscovery Program, which can send workers “In areas that require less of a law enforcement hand but more social services.” , de-escalation type situation.
New PABA President Jim McEntire asked DeScala on Tuesday what he and the board members thought “were the steps or missteps that got us where we are today.”
DeScalia said, “I think we got here because you can’t tolerate everything, any behavior in a community, and keep the safety and structure of that community,” he said, adding that he spoke for himself, not for the board.
“So I think what got us here is we just tolerate behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated. In my opinion, you shouldn’t be able to sit in a public space and build a shelter or use drugs, ”he said.
“And unfortunately in today’s climate, you know, tolerance and acceptance is king, and so we come to a point where people feel like they can do anything, when, as they want, and there is no repercussion for that, “he said.
“Until we pick up on some of these things, it’s going to be an ongoing problem.”
Senior Editor Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]