Cato leads local effort on rural homelessness

School Board and city of Ocean Shores asked to participate

The North Beach School District and the city of Ocean Shores are considering what can be done to address the problem of homelessness in the North Beach area.

School Board member Doreen Cato announced the initiative at the May 16 board meeting, and then made a presentation Monday at the Ocean Shores City Council meeting.

Cato, co-founder and Board President at Grays Harbor Youth Works, said she had met with Mayor Crystal Dingler over her concern about rural homelessness. In the Seattle area, she had extensive experience with urban homelessness from 1985-2012 as executive director of First Place in the Central District.

“Of course, a lot has changed since then,” Cato said. “But what hasn’t changed is in the rural communities.”

Cato noted that homelessness in areas like Pacific Beach, Moclips and Ocean Shores often is overlooked.

“In order to bring more attention to our needs, I did bring this up to our mayor,” Cato said, asking the school board for authority to form an ad-hoc committee on the issue.

“We will be able to come up with some data, because that’s what is missing,” she added.

The intent would be to build a database and then set some policies that can be put into place in the near future.

“In order for us to serve, you don’t wait until it becomes problem where you are starting to see people on the streets,” Cato said. “… It’s going to happen if we don’t come together. I think we need the blessing of the city to make this a stronger partnership.”

On Monday night, Cato made a similar presentation to the City Council, noting that the most recent estimates show 135 homeless children are now attending North Beach schools.

“That’s spread between three schools, but the majority are in Ocean Shores,” she said. In a five-county area, 16 school districts were identified as having a poverty level of 60 percent or greater within the school population, and many of those were in Grays Harbor, Cato said.

“I believe the City Council and the School Board should work together to stay ahead of the challenge of homeless,” she added. “Together, we can make that difference. … Homelessness is a systemic challenge that requires more than one entity to work on it.”

Volunteer policy

Concern about a new School District volunteer policy requiring state and FBI background checks and other measures was raised during the May 16 North Beach School Board meeting.

Several volunteers, parents and coaches were concerned the new policy could diminish the number of people willing and able to go through the lengthy process to comply. They questioned if it applied to all volunteers for sports, such as those who worked in concessions or as starters at track meets or those who work the chains at football games.

Supt. Deborah Holcomb noted the change in policy directly applies to volunteer coaches for full background checks.

“I think there is a misunderstanding as to the difference between a volunteer and a volunteer coach,” she said.

Holcomb suggested drafting a list of different jobs that would fall under the designation of volunteer coach. She said the target for the new policy to take effect at the start of fall sports.

Head football coach Todd Bridge noted he has long-time volunteers as well as former athletes who help with teams from time to time, and questioned if they had to go through full background checks as well.

“We cannot run a high school track meet” without those kind of volunteers, Bridge said. In his 12 years at North Beach, Bridge noted the Hyaks have hosted the All-County track meet for six of those years, all with volunteer help. Wrestling also relies heavily on volunteers, as well as powerlifting and other sports.

“There are three forms that a volunteer coach has to fill out. There are five online classes that a volunteer coach has to fulfill,” Bridge said. “… Our list every year gets longer and longer, and this year we have added the FBI background check.”

Bridge noted that a year ago, he had a paid coaching position available and no one applied, so he has had to rely on whoever is willing to volunteer their time.

“I’d like to get a lot more volunteer people coming in,” he said.

Graduation Change

Graduation this year will take place June 10 at the Ocean Shores Convention Center.

“We had some issues with equipment” in the gym, said North Beach High School Principal Brett Mackey. So the city of Ocean Shores stepped up and offered use of the Convention Center.

The Graduates of Distinction assembly and honors will be at 1:30 p.m. on June 1 at the high school. Those honored will be current North Beach Asst. Principal Wendy McCoy, former student Devin Thompson (who earned his doctorate in physical therapy), and former School Board president/member Steve Buck, honored as an Honorary Hyak.