BREMERTON — A monthly picnic in Bremerton is open to anyone to attend, but is especially organized for the homeless community to get some food in a safe, relaxing environment.
This month’s picnic is 5 p.m. June 19 at Evergreen Park, 1500 Park Ave., Bremerton, at the picnic shelters closest to the 9/11 Memorial.
Kimmy Siebens started these picnics a while after she began meeting with the homeless community in an effort to help their pets through her nonprofit, Their Voice, which assists “homeless pet owners with pet food, supplies and urgent veterinarian care if needed.”
“While getting to know many of the local homeless population, I became aware of how many homeless people there are in Kitsap County,” Siebens said. “I wanted to do more to help the people as well as the pets. I saw vulnerable people that needed more assistance; I wanted to learn more about them, from them. Providing food helped encourage conversations so I could learn more.”
Siebens said that she began to make food for the local homeless population in January; she served it out of the back of her truck. She also began asking for help via social media.
“As we grew in numbers (volunteers) and the weather improved, I decided we should host them at the local park and have been doing so once a month since March 27,” Siebens said. “I wanted them to feel comfortable eating and visiting, so I decided to host family like gatherings at a local park.”
She said that homeless people “can get in trouble if they congregate in large numbers,” and organizing the event at a public park meant “people could relax and we didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble for eating together.”
When they started the picnics, about 80 people attended the picnics for food. Siebens said they expected attendance to decrease once the winter Salvation Army shelters closed, but they still see 50-60 people at the picnics.
“I feel that these events help the community interact with and learn more about homeless issues,” Siebens said. “Food brings people together; it shows the homeless that people care about them (and) it shows the community that there are many faces to homelessness and that it is a very complex issue.”
Siebens said anyone is welcome to attend and eat or make food or volunteer with them. The meals are potluck, family style meals, but they do have servers for sanitation reasons, she said.
This month, the entree will be provided by Alan Davis, owner and chef of the Honor Bar; he’ll be making and donating a paella for the picnic. Other volunteers will be bringing side dishes and anyone is welcome to bring a side dish of their choice.
“(The goal of the picnic is) to engage the public in learning about homelessness,” Siebens said, “to help debunk some of the stereotypes given to homeless people, to show our local homeless citizens that we care and want to learn more about what we can do to help, to remind the homeless and community that the homeless are important and matter even if they are struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, disabilities or just falling on hard times.”
Siebens said that people have told her in the past that “the homeless have become like background noise and forgotten about.”
“After people meet some of them and learn about their situation, they no longer consider them a part of the scenery, but as a fellow community member on hard times.”
Since the picnics started, other unexpected benefits have arisen, as well. Siebens said she “discovered a homeless predator taking advantage of two elderly homeless women” by stealing their medications and their resources through fear and manipulation. Siebens said she “was able to catch her stealing” their medications; it turned out the woman was a fugitive, and with the help of the Bremerton Police Department, she was extradited out of the state.
Siebens also has found two travel trailers she and other volunteers are currently fixing up for homeless families with the funds for rent at a trailer park.
“If everything goes as planned, this will take five people, five dogs and two cats off the streets and into housing for the first time in years,” Siebens said. “Rent in Bremerton is going up, and renters need to prove they make two to three times the rent in order to be eligible. This is one major reason why some homeless people we know cannot get off the streets. Many have an income, but not enough to prove two to three times the rent required.
“This proves that people in the community can help the homeless,” she added. “You don’t need to be a big organization or have a lot of money. Sometimes, you can help people with the skills you already possess … Eating and visiting together can help open the doors to helping get people off the streets.”
For more information about the picnic, visit bit.ly/2sUXvEo. To get involved as a volunteer or to learn more about the efforts, visit the Bremerton Homeless Community Coalition Facebook group, bit.ly/2JwBrdI.