December 5, 2023

Jefferson County considers future of encampment

PORT TOWNSEND – After weeks of conversations about how much to invest in the homeless encampment near Mill Road, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners comes back to the table today to talk about a critical issue: control of the site.

Since last fall, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) has managed the camp, naming it Caswell-Brown Village after two local residents.

John Caswell, 62, was homeless and died during the extreme heat wave in late June. Victoria Brown, 23, was found dead outside her trailer at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds homeless encampment four days after Christmas 2020.

OlyCAP, in its efforts to provide shelter and services to prevent such suffering and death, worked with Jefferson County to establish the village.

At first, this was considered an emergency measure; the commissioners allocated $602,000 to purchase the land for it. This was Phase I of the Caswell-Brown project.

This spring, Cherish Cronmiller and Kathy Morgan of OlyCAP are looking to expand and improve the village, adding septic, water and electrical services to make it a permanent home for up to 50 people. These facilities include Phase II-A, while future Phases II-B and III will bring further improvements.

In order to apply for public funding for the additions — which will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — OlyCAP must show it controls the site, Cronmiller explained.

At commissioners’ meetings over the past three weeks, Cronmiller has outlined plans, costs and potential ways forward.

The county could give control of the site to OlyCAP by selling the Caswell-Brown Village land to the agency — then putting the proceeds back into the expansion project, Cronmiller said.

The commissioners focused on this idea during their meeting last Monday. With County Community Development Manager Brent Butler, they discussed the possibility of selling the property to OlyCAP while retaining a small parcel of land for commercial development along State Route 20.

County Administrator Mark McCauley was absent last week, so County Director of Public Works Monte Reinders also joined in the conversation.

In addition to current and future costs to the Village of Caswell-Brown, commissioners and county staff members discussed zoning issues, the issue of sewer service at the site, and leasing the land to OlyCAP instead. to sell it.

“It’s a big and tricky subject,” said commissioner Greg Brotherton.

He and the stewards opted to wait a week and put it on today’s agenda for possible action, with McCauley on hand.

The topic should be discussed after 2:10 p.m. today. People can participate in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., in Port Townsend or virtually at To watch the meeting live, go to and follow the links under “Quick Links: Meeting Videos – Live Streaming”. To listen only, call 1-253-215-8782 and enter passcode 937-7784-1705#.

Over the past few weeks, commissioners Heidi Eisenhour, Kate Dean and Brotherton have questioned the county administrator about how much US federal bailout law money can be invested in various county projects, ranging from housing affordable broadband service. McCauley said funding allocations for such projects are not yet concrete.

Earlier this month, commissioners allocated $500,000 for basic improvements to the Caswell-Brown Village site. This was in addition to some $1 million in county funds allocated last year to purchase the land, establish the village and relocate homeless people who camped at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

Much more is needed, Cronmiller reminded the commissioners. Village operating costs – including OlyCAP staff and administrative time, meals purchased from Jefferson Healthcare, portable toilets, fence rental, garbage disposal, recycling, water tanks and a trailer water pumps – total $36,474 per month.

In their report at the March 28 meeting of county commissioners, Cronmiller and Morgan said 19 adults and one child lived at the camp. Phase II-A, at a cost of $874,399, according to the OlyCAP report, would cover basic facilities to expand this number to a maximum of 50. There is a high demand for space in the village, said the two OlyCAP staff members.

Brotherton, who sits on the board of OlyCAP, said last Monday that the commissioners came to today’s meeting with an understanding of the issue of site control.

He added that he was engaged in the Caswell-Brown project.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he said.


Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected].