Kitsap Rescue Mission’s religion-based hiring process puts a snag in grant funding

The overnight shelter is asking for an exemption based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Federal guidelines are keeping Kitsap County’s only overnight shelter, Kitsap Rescue Mission, from currently being eligible for federal funding to help building costs due to the nonprofit taking “faith” into consideration as a component in hiring its employees, according to Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler.

Initially, Wheeler proposed the reallocation of $120,000 in federal grant funding from the Quincy Square project to be used for building fixtures at the shelter, in efforts to prevent the shelter from moving to another location and temporarily closing.

According to Wheeler, the Community Development Block Grant committee selects a top option for the funding, and often times there are contingencies that have to be met in order to receive the funding. In Kitsap Rescue Mission’s case, they have applied for the funding but are currently not eligible per federal guidelines due to their practice of having employees sign off on a statement of faith before being hired.

“They would have to adjust that to say that they would not be able to discriminate in that matter,” Wheeler said. “If the rescue mission changes their policy — and it has to be board approved — then they would be in the first position for the funding.”

Wheeler did say that if Kitsap Rescue Mission does not meet board requirements, then the YWCA shelter, a domestic violence service provider in Bremerton, will be next in line for the funding for building repairs and a lead paint problem.

“Honestly, I don’t think there is a competition here, it’s just a matter of them (KRM) meeting the requirements and if not, we have a second position,” Wheeler said. “I hope they don’t feel like they are competing against each other. This is a public process to get to position one and position two.”

Kitsap Rescue Mission put out a statement on their website Thursday addressing the current situation.

“We have asked for an exemption based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and are waiting for a response to see if that exemption extends to Community Development Block Grants. Our faith in Christ is the center of who we are and why we are here for those in our community experiencing homelessness. We have always served all who come to us without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or religion – and will continue to do so.”

“We remain grateful to Mayor Greg Wheeler, city officials and the city council for all of their work, and we are continuing work on the permitting goals they have laid out for us.”

A 30-day public comment period is underway regarding the use of the funds and city council will follow with a vote on whether to approve the proposal or not.

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