Concerns expressed about how Kitsap County prioritizes housing services

With a high need for services and not enough funding, service organizations worry about equity

PORT ORCHARD — With the eviction moratorium lifted, people in Kitsap County facing housing insecurity are left looking for rental assistance and other solutions to stay out of homelessness.

One place they might be looking for help is with the county.

Yet, Deborah Jackson of Surviving Change and Hope 360 expressed concern that people of color are not treated equitably when seeking services. At an Aug. 9 meeting with leaders from organizations helping those facing housing insecurity, Jackson said people of color often have to wait longer to get help and aren’t given the same level of services.

“We want to make sure that you get justice. And receive fair and equal housing and receive fairness. When you walk into that [Kitsap Community Resources] building, that you’re going to get service and you’re going to be treated like a human being … That you’re not going to be judged on the color of your skin,” Jackson said.

At the meeting, Matt Garrett of Housing Solutions, a county program administered through Kitsap Community Resources, acknowledged the potential missteps of KCR in the past. He said he was open to hearing people’s stories and wants to provide transparency about the decision-making processes for resources.

In response to concerns that the county discriminates against those who get services, Garrett said his program takes this charge seriously. He said their goal is to be an anti-racist organization, something he said they are actively working on. Part of his work, he said, is to attend events and engage in discussions with people who need services.

Garrett said his work also includes engaging with organizations like Hope 360 and Gather Together Grow Together. The county contracts with six different groups that represent underserved populations in the county and is in partnerships that value feedback from the organizations.

“Those partnerships have been invaluable. We’ve learned a ton from them and I think they’re helping us to become a better organization, to become more anti-racist, to become more trauma-informed and to understand how are our policies are affecting these communities,” Garrett said.

Members of the public have expressed concern with how the county prioritizes who will receive services. To determine this, Garrett said they use what he called prioritization tools since there are not enough resources for everyone in need.

Clients needing assistance are asked to fill out a vulnerability screening form that attempts to identify who is the most vulnerable, as well as ask questions about where they are sleeping that night and if they have any disabilities. Their goal is to get services quickly to those who need them the most, but Garrett said he acknowledges how this can be frustrating for people who are waiting for assistance.

The county is currently in the process of selecting a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to assess county practices and policies. Commissioner Rob Gelder said this consultant will look at how the county could be doing better in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to an Aug. 13 data summary for Kitsap Eviction Prevention Assistance, a program run through Housing Solutions and funded by federal dollars through the Coronavirus Relief Fund and soon the American Rescue Plan, the program has exceeded the county’s benchmarks for racial equity, with 49.4% of the people served through the program being people of color.