City of Bremerton mulls zoning changes to allow homeless encampments

Recent data indicates 58 percent of the county’s unsheltered population is in Bremerton

The City of Bremerton is considering changing its zoning code in an effort to permit religious and nonprofit homeless encampments.

Currently, the city does not have any regulations that address temporary encampments, although the state has already authorized religious organizations to host temporary 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.

“It is vitally important that the city establishes regulations to protect the health of the individuals in temporary encampments and the public health, safety and security of our neighborhoods,” reads text from the zoning code amendment.

“Because of the number of unsheltered people that are in our community, we believe it is important to broaden the scope of who can apply to operate a temporary encampment to include more than religious institutions, but to also allow other nonprofit organizations and groups to operate these facilities.”

Over the last decade, temporary homeless encampments, often referred to as “tent cities,” have become an often-used mechanism for providing shelter for homeless individuals. The proposed code establishes requirements to protect health, safety, and security of the Bremerton 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 90 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 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, applying for a permit (30-day review).

Last week, the city presented these changes which will be addressed at the next Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 18. Bremerton City Council will then vote on the proposed zoning code amendment in December.