City of Bremerton will not renew shelter permit at Kitsap Rescue Mission

Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler cites fire safety concerns and inadequate funding strategy

With Kitsap Rescue Mission’s temporary shelter permit set to expire Oct. 13, the City of Bremerton announced Tuesday that they will not extend the permit due to fire safety concerns.

The announcement means Kitsap County’s only year-round overnight shelter will be closing its doors next week. Kitsap Rescue Mission’s daytime office operations will not be affected and will continue under its current business occupancy permit.

“KRM has not had any significant construction progress, and the building in its current form is unsafe for continued use as a shelter because it does not meet code standards and lacks appropriate fire protection devices,” Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler wrote in a letter to Kitsap Rescue Mission Tuesday. “Additionally, the funding strategy that you presented is inadequate and unsecured, and [the] City is not assured that your final construction improvements will be completed in the immediate future.”

The building has been issued a series of temporary occupancy permits dating back to December 2015. Initially, Wheeler proposed using $120,000 in federal grant funding to assist in building fixtures, but KRM’s religion-based hiring process didn’t meet federal guidelines in order to be eligible to receive the funding.

“I am deeply disheartened that the Kitsap Rescue Mission was not able [to] move forward with construction and installation of a sprinkler system despite the permitting of an expansive remodeling and construction project of your building several years ago,” Wheeler wrote. “I remain hopeful that KRM will install critical fire suppression sometime in the future, which will help guests in need of shelter find comfort and a safe place to sleep.”

Executive Director of Kitsap Rescue Mission, Nancy Olsten, released a statement Wednesday in response to the City of Bremerton’s decision, claiming the city issued a plan for them for a series of 30-day extensions ending Jan. 14, 2020, if they complied with the steps outlined in each segment.

The steps included a schedule and costs for the sprinkler system installation and a funding strategy. KRM submitted documentation Monday requesting a 30-day permit renewal.

“The Mayor mentions in his letter that they denied our permit renewal because we hadn’t secured funding,” Olsten wrote. “A strategy is not the same as securing funding, so my understanding is that we complied fully with all that was asked of us.”

Olsten also mentioned how the building has smoke detectors, a fire alarm system, a camera system, and staff that are awake to monitor the shelter all night. In regard to why KRM didn’t have a sprinkler system installed before, Olsten said the issue of a sprinkler system — as a requirement for renewal of the permit — wasn’t raised until a meeting with the City of Bremerton Sept. 13.

“I am at a loss to understand how we could have been working alongside the city, pursuing a plan that they laid out, and then learn that the mayor decided that we didn’t meet the criteria without discussing that decision with us,” Olsten’s statement reads. “I am disappointed that the mayor has shown such bad faith in dealing with us after inviting us to work together with his team on a solution to keep the shelter open.”

“It’s important too, that in the midst of our discussion about building codes, funding and politics, we don’t lose sight of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. It is cold this morning as I write this. No one should have to sleep outside. We ask for the support of the community as we support and provide for the most vulnerable in our community.”

Wheeler said he’s working closely with the Bremerton Salvation Army to establish an emergency shelter when Kitsap Rescue Mission’s temporary occupancy permit expires Oct. 13.