By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Kitsap County’s new homeless shelter just off Mile Hill Drive in Port Orchard was originally scheduled to open its doors just about now. Construction delays and issues obtaining building materials due to a disruption in the world’s supply chain have caused the shelter’s launch to be put off until sometime next year.
When asked when the facility will be completed, Kirsten Jewell, county housing and homeless division manager said, “I don’t have a good answer for that. There are so many delays in the supply chain and so much competition for subcontractors right now, so we just don’t have a good estimate on that. It’s definitely going to be into 2022 at this point.”
While the opening has been put off, county housing officials still want to hear from residents about the project.
Two listening sessions have been scheduled for neighbors next to the facility to voice concerns and ask questions about the project. The Zoom meetings will run from 6:30-8 p.m., on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.
Attendees will be given two minutes to speak. Advance registration is available starting Nov. 15 at kcowa.us/skhousing.
Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, who represents the District 2 location where the new homeless shelter is to operate, said, “The bottom line is, this is a great opportunity for community members to talk about the project. We know there are a lot of questions out there, so let’s just talk about them.”
When the Port Orchard homeless shelter does open, it will be house 75 residents, including men, women and families. It will operate 24 hours a day year-round. There will not be a limit on how long qualified residents can remain, Jewell said.
To sleep at the shelter, one will need to be referred by the Housing Solutions Center, which screens applicants to ensure each is appropriate for the facility.
“There is not going to be lines of people out the door trying to get a shelter bed,” Jewell said. “Anyone who is not part of the program will not be allowed in the building.”
Unlike the feeding program at the Bremerton shelter where individuals can stop by and get fed, only residents will receive meals, she said.
“The goal is to get people out the shelter as soon as possible and into stable housing. It’s not meant to be a place that people stay very long.”
In April, the county quietly purchased the Olympic Fitness Club building at 4459 SW Mile Hill Dr., to refurbish it into a new shelter. The 20,000-square-foot building, adjacent to Wave Broadband, is set back from the street and has a large backyard.
The location was chosen for several reasons, including its large square footage, its South Kitsap location, access to transportation and its proximity to a wide range of community services, according to county officials.
Many neighbors learned of the plan when Kitsap Daily News published a profile of the project on April 5.
Repairs and supplies
Since purchasing the building, officials have investigated what repairs are needed.
“When you get into any older building, you don’t know what you are getting into until you start getting into it,” Jewell said.
“We have had our architecture and engineering team do some digging into the building systems to make sure the plumbing, the sewer, and electrical are all going be able to meet the needs of the new program in that building. All of that is just taking more time than what we thought.”
At the outset, county officials realized the building would need a fire system, a new roof, plumbing work, and modifications to make the facility ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) complaint, Jewell said.
“We knew on a grand scale some of the things that needed to be done,” she explained. “But at that point, we hadn’t hired an architectural engineer to tell us the extent of what we were going to need to do. That work has been happening over the summer.”
In addition to remodeling issues, the county’s Pierce County-based general contractor, like other contractors, is having issues obtaining needed materials.
“There are certain building materials right now that are very hard to get a hold of. You have tankers off the coast of Washington not being able to unload. Some of those loads are building supplies like wood, Sheetrock, copper fittings, electrical wire and light fixtures,” Jewell said.
“Everything in construction is way expensive because there is a shortage of materials. The hope is the supply chain gets better and prices come down.”
The cost of getting the new shelter ready for occupancy is still being determined, she said.
Rice Fergus Miller (RFM), an architectural firm in Bremerton, has been contracted by the county to do an analysis of the site and determine what work is needed to convert the building to a shelter.
RFM is expected to complete its review of the property in the next few weeks and then tell officials what work needs to be done, Jewell said. Once recommendations are made, the county will seek the required building permits, she said.
After the analysis is finished, officials also expect to have a better idea about when the shelter will open. A combination of federal, state and local funds has been secured to operate the shelter, the manager added. Initially, the shelter will be operated by Kitsap Rescue Mission, a nonprofit organization.
A scramble for beds
Originally, residents of the shelter at the Pavilion on the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton were to relocate to the Port Orchard shelter. The Pavilion returned to its original use as an events center in August. However, when the fairgrounds facility closed, the Mile Hill Drive shelter was nowhere near ready for occupancy, causing officials to scramble to find a place to relocate Pavilion residents.
To solve the problem, the county rented a block of rooms at the Quality Inn on Kitsap Way in Bremerton for approximately 70 individuals, Jewell said. The county will likely continue using the hotel rooms even after the Port Orchard shelter opens due to an increasing number of homeless people in the county, Jewell said.
“We have more people living outside now than we have shelter space for, so the idea is to try to expand the number of shelter beds that we have across all of the county so everybody has a place to be inside,” Jewell said.
Recent evidence of increased homelessness in the county came to light when the City of Port Orchard and the county clashed over the presence of homeless tents at Veterans Memorial Park, a county-owned park in Port Orchard.
Last month, city officials sent a letter requesting that the county clean up the park, saying trash, tents and household items at the park constituted a public nuisance and violated the city’s municipal code.
A resulting cleanup of the park reportedly netted 28,000 pounds of garbage.