Bremerton takes steps forward to permit temporary homeless encampments

Bremerton City Council will vote on the proposed code changes in December

The City of Bremerton Planning Commission moved forward proposed code changes Monday night, which would permit the siting of temporary homeless encampments within city limits.

The code passed on a 3-2 vote, with commission members Deanna Jones and Erik Pedersen voting against the proposal. Commission members Rick Tift, Nick Wofford, and Bill Mosiman voted in favor of the code changes.

“It looks good on paper, but in reality, I don’t think it would turn out that way,” Jones said.

Currently, the City of Bremerton does not have any regulations that address temporary homeless encampments. The preliminary data for the 2019 Kitsap County Point in Time Count Overview was recently received by the city, and the data indicates 58 percent of the county’s unsheltered population is in Bremerton.

The City of Bremerton recently released its proposed code, establishing requirements to protect health, safety, and security of the community such as:

  • Sites would be allowed in all zoning districts
  • Site must be at least one acre, and the area dedicated to the encampment must contain 150 square feet per resident
  • 20 feet minimum setback, 40 feet setback from residential uses
  • Activities must be screened/fenced
  • Requires security management
  • Outreach to neighbors
  • Performance standards must be met for health and safety
  • Permit application process that will take a maximum of 30 days
  • Temporary encampment can last up to 92 days at one location and can’t return to that site for 24 months
  • Only one encampment is allowed in the city limits at one time

“As I thought about both the duration of 92 days and the turnover of 24 months, and the size of the city of Bremerton, I wondered what is the likelihood of finding that many parcels,” Mosiman said. “These unsheltered people are people too. My personal opinion is that you’ve struck a balance with the 92 days and the two years.”

In order to place a temporary encampment within the city, a regulatory process needs to take place, which includes finding a site, performing pre-application work to identify and mitigate impacts, conducting a neighborhood meeting, revising the proposal and ensuring all items are addressed, and applying for a permit (30-day review).

“I see the need for having well-regulated temporary encampments in the city,” Pedersen said. “I would not want to be right next to one. If I’m raising a kid, I do not want to be right next to one. We’re enforcing this on some people who might not be able to deal with it very well.”

Upon discussion of the Planning Commission meeting, the definition of an applicant was changed to “a group or individual that hosts, sponsors and/or manages a temporary encampment.” Initially, an applicant was defined as a “temporary encampment host, sponsor and manager.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, former Bremerton city councilmember Roy Runyon addressed some concerns he had with the code of conduct section of the proposed code changes.

“(The) code of conduct is pretty vague,” Runyon said. “A lot of folks are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and if we’re going to shelter these folks, they should have access to some kind of treatment. That’s an opportunity to provide treatment that’s necessary.”

Recently elected Bremerton city councilmember Michael Simpson also spoke during the public comment period, suggesting that the one-acre minimum requirement be dropped down to a half-acre.

Some of the public comments that the City of Bremerton received since presenting the initial proposed code changes included requesting a longer duration of time for each encampment and opposing “tent cities.”

Bremerton City Council will now vote on the proposed code changes in December.