After a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours last Wednesday, the Bremerton City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will allow nonprofit or religious groups to set up and operate temporary homeless encampments within city limits.
Before the ordinance passed, the City of Bremerton did not have any regulations that addressed temporary homeless encampments. Preliminary data from the 2019 Kitsap County Point in Time Count Overview indicates 58 percent of the county’s unsheltered population is in Bremerton.
“This code is really just to be able to address temporary encampments, which isn’t supposed to be a permanent solution,” City of Bremerton Senior Planner Allison Satter said.
The encampments were initially only supposed to last up to 92 days at a time at one location, but that part of the code drew some criticism from many community members at the council meeting.
“Three months is not going to be long enough,” Anna Mockler said, who recently ran for Bremerton City Council. “You guys deal with social service agencies all the time, you know they don’t turn on a dime. It’s going to take awhile for people to use the homeless encampment. I think 90 days is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. I’m applauding your compassion and I’m asking you to extend it.”
Councilwoman Lori Wheat was a big proponent in ultimately revising the site duration from 92 days to 183 days within a 24-month period after hearing the public reaction from a few local experts in the field such as Kirsten Jewell, Housing and Homelessness Program Coordinator for Kitsap County.
“Being able to move people out of encampments and back to stable housing really requires also a plan to address the need for affordable housing in the community,” Jewell said. “The last thing we want is for people to move into an encampment and then kind of get stuck there because there’s a bottleneck and there’s no place for them to go.”
“When I think about how the ordinance should be written, I want to hear from the experts in the field who are doing the work and I want to make sure we are responding to their needs because they know exactly what needs to happen, Wheat said.”
Other components of the ordinance include:
• 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 183 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
In order for a nonprofit or religious entity to set up and operate a temporary homeless encampment within the city, a regulatory process needs to take place first. A site needs to be identified before pre-application work is performed to identify and mitigate impacts. A neighborhood or community meeting also must occur in the area that the proposed site would be located. After that, the proposal will be revised to ensure all items are addressed before applying for a permit, which has a 30-day review.