Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu brought together civic activists, church leaders and Kitsap County social services representatives to discuss solutions to the area’s homelessness issue. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News

Homelessness committee members take action to create severe weather housing in Port Orchard

By BOB SMITH

Kitsap News Group

PORT ORCHARD — The winter rain has been relentless, especially earlier in the week when South Kitsap was saturated by non-stop rainstorms spanning two days and nights.

It’s a dreary disadvantage that otherwise pales in comparison to the splendid advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest. For most residents, the rain dampens weekend plans and casts a gloomy hue over the landscape. But for a small segment of the population who are homeless, the rain, freezing temperatures, blowing winds and the occasional snowfall not only are an inconvenience, they are health hazards.

The homeless can take temporary refuge at two severe weather shelters operated by the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management: one in Silverdale, the other in Kingston. Nothing exists, however, in the southern part of the county.

To rectify that situation, Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu organized an ad-hoc committee of concerned area residents and representatives of faith-based organizations and social service agencies last fall to develop solutions to the growing need for both temporary and permanent housing for the area’s homeless population.

One benefit of organizing the committee, Putaansuu said at a meeting Jan. 17 in City Council chambers, has been being able to take stock of what resources are available in South Kitsap — and discover instances where work is being duplicated.

“This gives us a chance to find ways where we all can work to get to know each other and support the work being done,” Putaansuu said.

The mayor said since the issue of homelessness is complex — and each victim has their own, individual backstory — it takes the efforts of many volunteers and government agencies to try to help find a remedy.

“None of this is ‘one size fits all,’” Putaansuu said of the committee’s solutions that are in varying stages of work. “The point is to help people in crisis.”

Representatives from Kitsap Rescue Mission in Bremerton were on hand to lend assistance in organizing a severe-weather shelter in Port Orchard. Joe Summers, the agency’s outreach manager, offered advice based on his past experiences. Cots and mattresses are listed on a needed supplies list for the planned severe-weather shelter. But Summers said that while cots are good for immediate, temporary use in overflow situations, they don’t hold up over time. And mattresses invite problems with bedbugs.

Finding this microscopic nuisance can cost thousands to remove them from shelter mattresses, he said. “You don’t want to spend that much money. Bedbugs will shut you down for weeks.”

The Kitsap Rescue Mission veteran said his facility staff prefers using trifold mats, which are easy to clean and hold up well after heavy use.

Jennifer Hardison, executive director of South Kitsap Helpline, said an overnight call to a special telephone number — 211 — will put the caller in touch with the county’s Housing Solutions Center. People in need of shelter after-hours will be directed to a nearby location.

If those shelters don’t have room or there are special circumstances involved, such as finding accommodations for homeless families, Hardison said motel vouchers provided by the city, Kitsap Community Resources and Helpline are available on a limited basis.

Committee members expect the severe weather shelter at Port Orchard United Methodist Church to be ready to open in a few weeks. Tim Blair, pastor at Ekklesia Church, said a training course for severe-weather shelter volunteers on Jan. 19 is full. He expects 60 volunteers to attend the session at the church.

Jennifer Hardison, executive director of South Kitsap Helpline, and Mayor Rob Putaansuu detail the motel voucher program available to some residents who find themselves temporarily homeless. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News

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