County’s extreme winter weather shelters are a warm place during the cold

Over this past week, winter weather shelters offer warm beds to more than 160 people

By Mike De Felice

Kitsap News Group

PORT ORCHARD – Severe weather shelters around Kitsap County opened their doors during the recent cold snap during the last week of 2021 to offer warm beds to more than 160 people, according to county officials.

“The severe weather shelters serve anyone in our area who requires safe overnight refuge when hazardous weather conditions are expected,” said Dave Rasmussen of the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management. The shelters are open to single adults, parents with children, and teenagers.

The emergency shelters typically open during periods of extreme weather, as was the case from Christmas through Jan. 1.

“Primarily, we open those shelters when we hit the freezing mark or if we have over an inch of snow for two successive days,” Rasmussen said.

The shelters also open during periods of extreme rainfall or high winds. When forecasts call for below-freezing temperatures at Bremerton International Airport, the emergency shelter program kicks into action.

Severe weather shelter locations include the Village Green Community Center in Kingston; Port Orchard United Methodist Church in Port Orchard; Gateway Fellowship in Poulsbo; and Silverdale United Methodist Church in Silverdale. A daytime warming center also was open between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.

“We helped nearly 90 people during that week,” said warming shelter coordinator Kate Cummings. “It was a good, warm place for people to come to at a particularly challenging time.”

Bainbridge Island’s emergency program aligns with the county’s plan, yet it is dependent on local weather.

The Bainbridge Island severe weather shelter at the Senior Community Center was open Christmas Day through Jan. 1, according to emergency management coordinator Anne LeSage.

“Our process worked very well. I am extremely grateful to our volunteers who gave their time over the holidays to help individuals who would otherwise be left out in the extreme weather,” LeSage said.

Once the temperatures get low enough, staffers from the county’s Department of Human Services start calling in trained volunteers to operate the shelters, Rasmussen said. Adequate staff is required to open a shelter. During the recent extreme weather, there was at least one night the Poulsbo shelter was unable to open due to a staffing shortage, he noted.

Opening the emergency shelters is only part of the emergency program, he said. It is also important that individuals are able to get to the shelters.

“The nonprofit ‘Gather Together Grow Together’ and Kitsap Transit stepped up to provide free rides to shelters and warming centers,” Rasmussen said.