By Jesse Major / Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — An Everett man has made it his mission to help people living with homelessness and addiction, and it’s a mission that has led him to Port Angeles.
Robert Smiley, founder of The Hand Up Project, said he and volunteers drive folks from Snohomish County to Port Angeles and other communities so they can detox — and then they take them home.
“I’m not helping anybody if I’m leaving them here,” Smiley said. “I don’t want to create homelessness by bringing people way out here and leaving them.”
He said he has found that in Snohomish County it is not unusual for people to have to wait up to five days to get into detox, which led to him searching for other options around the state.
“After they’re done with detox they come back with us or they go into inpatient treatment,” Smiley said. “Once they go into inpatient treatment they call me with their counselor and we arrange for the county to cover their rent when they come out.”
Smiley, who has more than six years free from crack cocaine and alcohol, said The Hand Up Project operates two clean and sober houses in Everett and works with other organizations to get people into housing.
He said it’s his work assisting others that helps him stay clean.
When Amy Miller — who heads Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics’ ReDiscovery Program in partnership with the Port Angeles Police Department — learned of Smiley’s efforts, she saw it as an opportunity.
Miller spends much of her time on street outreach and connecting people to resources.
“I thought maybe we could have some ability to partner up because he’s coming out here from out of town and there’s a lot of folks in Port Angeles trying to get out of town for their treatment needs, too,” Miller said.
“That’s something that happens with treatment. We generally look outside of town for certain levels of treatment because it’s more successful when you’re not in your home environment.”
She said that in Port Angeles there are almost always beds available for detox and that The Hand Up Project is not taking beds away from Clallam County residents. She said it’s the treatment beds, after the detox process, that can be hard to come by.
Smiley said that last year The Hand Up Project transported 43 people from Port Angeles to Snohomish County for various services.
The project has been coming to Port Angeles for the last three years, but trips became more frequent two years ago when Smiley realized people who went to Port Angeles seemed to have greater rates of success.
“We found that people were actually staying sober because of the treatment over there,” he said. “They have better treatment than a lot of these other organizations.”
People are also transported to Chehalis, Skagit County, Seattle and Tukwila, he said.
The Hand Up Project provides outreach to homeless encampments in Snohomish County, cleans encampments and helps those in poverty connect with resources, among other work.
Smiley said last year 67 percent of his clients had more than a year sober.
“I believe it has to do with the type of treatment they’re getting and when they get released you can’t let them go back to their family and you can’t let them go back to their old environment,” he said.
The Hand Up Project is working on building a 96-bed apartment complex for clean-and-sober housing, Smiley said.
He said the land, which is just outside Lynnwood, is secured and there’s funding in place for construction, but the nonprofit is still looking for an architect. He said it would be four stories with four three-room apartments per floor.
Clients would be required to be enrolled in outpatient and help the nonprofit with cleanups.
For more information, go to www.thehandupproject.org.
The Peninsula Daily News is a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.