Our ministry is located in a small town, surrounded by a rural county. Grays Harbor County is nestled between the roaring Pacific and the great old growth forests of the Olympic Mountains. Once owned by Native peoples who hunted the woods and fished the rivers of the Chehalis River Basin, the area became a mecca for the timber industry in the 19th century. When the timber industry collapsed in the 80s and 90s, it left extensive poverty in its wake. The largest town of the region is Aberdeen, a city of just over 16,000 and the official poverty rate here is a whopping 22%. Several hundred people are homeless and living on the streets. Hit hard by the economic downturn, many of us are living just a step away from homelessness and struggling to survive. The harbor is a place of great beauty and great struggle, but full of gifted people with great wisdom and much to give.
Poverty in Grays Harbor County, WA
Living under the poverty line: 22% of the population of Grays Harbor live below the poverty line. That’s 32% of our kids. On the Quinault Indian Nation north of us, in Taholah, the poverty rate is 35%. Nearly half the population (46%) is eligible to access DSHS services.
Working poor: The decline of the timber and fishing industries has left the region without a manufacturing or economic base, with limited service or security jobs being the only jobs available. For every dollar earned in WA state, workers in Grays Harbor receive 72 cents.
Unemployment rate: Grays Harbor has vied for the highest rate of unemployment in the state, currently at 8.8% of the workforce, but winter tends to see about 12-14% unemployment.
40% of our population spend over the recommended 30% of their income paying for housing.
The official (point in time) count of people living without a home is at 162 people. The actual number, by all accounts, is significantly higher. They call themselves the 1%ers (Aberdeen has a population of 16,000, so they are at least 1% of the population).
Our Young People
School lunches: 62% of school children in Grays Harbor are eligible free or reduced cost lunches; in some areas, that number is 90%. 1 in 5 students report skipping or cutting meals at home because there was not enough food.
Homeless: The school districts of the county list 880 students (K-12) as homeless. These kids couch surf, live in hotels or shelters, or double up with extended family.
Mental Health: An inevitable result of poverty is a sense of hopelessness. 1 in 5 tenth graders have used drugs in Grays Harbor, 1 in 5 have experienced abuse at home, 1 in 3 have witnessed domestic violence, and over 1 in 3 struggle with significant depression.
Relationship to police and state systems: Our system is stacked against people who are poor. People in poverty are significantly more likely to lose custody of their kids and kids in poverty are significantly more likely to spend time in jail as they struggle to survive. 1 in 20 children are under the jurisdiction of Child Protective Services in Grays Harbor and 1 in 20 teens under 17 have been arrested.
In 1990, around 3% of population of Aberdeen was Latino; in 2013, officially 16%. As of 2009, 65% of Spanish speaking immigrants live below the poverty line.
Sources: “Community Health Needs Assessment,” Grays Harbor Hospital, 2013; “Grays Harbor Community Health Profile,” Grays Harbor Public Health, July 2013; Annual Point in the Time Count, WA Department of Commerce, 2014; “Immigration on the Harbor,” TESC, Sarah Monroe, 2009