All across Kitsap County residents watched as a February snowstorm rendered roadways impassable, canceled school for several days and prompted residents to flock to local grocery stores in search of supplies to weather out the storm.
The winter weather also saw the Severe Weather Shelter at Kingston’s Village Green Community Center, activated for the duration of the storm, spreading thin the volunteers who staff the shelter.
In a Feb. 15 interview, Mary Gleysteen, a volunteer, said the shelter had been open to guests every night for the previous 12 days. Requiring a minimum of seven volunteers per night, Gleysteen said the shelter’s pool of volunteers had been run ragged by the need caused by the snowstorm.
“It’s a huge commitment by people in Kingston who care,” Gleysteen said. “The concern is how to staff it … and how to do it without totally burning out the wonderful people who have been stepping up.”
Gleysteen said that while some nights the shelter didn’t have any guests, other nights saw guests connected to critical services.
“We had one guest who was newly homeless and was able to find home sharing through the North Kitsap Fishline housing solutions,” she said. “That was a really happy resolution.”
“This year, I think our guests have been younger than in previous years,” she added, estimating the average age of guests in previous years to be around 50 years old. “[They are] younger and there’s a more even mix of men and women.”
The recent weather has prompted the site managers for Kitsap County’s severe weather shelters to write a letter to county commissioners calling for permanent, year-round shelters to be established in order to serve those dealing with housing insecurity.
“Lack of affordable housing has reached crisis proportions and must be addressed now. Our experience has shown us that the Severe Weather Shelter Program is not sustainable. Operating in temporary, makeshift rooms not intended or designed for housing, the existing severe weather shelters lack the consistency, safety, and expertise required to help our guests get out of homelessness,” the letter reads.
“It’s not a matter of getting warm,” Gleysteen said. “The struggle for somebody who is living out of their car, or moving from one couch to another, is that there’s no place to rest and regroup. It’s a constant challenge to figure out where the next move is.”
“The thought of not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night, on top of that… I just can’t fathom it.”