Live-in shelter to allow pets to attract more homeless

Port Orchard’s first live-in shelter moved a step closer to reality with Kitsap County hiring a general contractor to oversee work on the facility.

The shelter, just off of SW Mile Hill Drive, is slated to open for up to 75 residents in November 2024.

Work to convert the former Olympic Fitness building into a shelter is set to begin after the first of the year, said Carl Borg, the county’s Housing and Homelessness program manager.

“This (shelter) is extremely needed. This one is going to be exciting because it is going to give people a safe place to be with the comfort of being able to bring their pets with them,” Borg said, adding funding for the $10 million shelter came from local, state and federal grants.

Initial work will be repair roof leaks, Borg said. Demolition work will follow. When interior walls are taken down an assessment will take place to determine if any structural repairs are needed. Upgrades of the electrical system and installation of larger sewer lines will happen. The final stage will include soundproofing and finishing work.

Shelter details

Men, women, families and their pets will reside in the shelter. The 20,000-square-foot building is located at 4459 Mile Hill Drive, adjacent to Astound Broadband.

Services to be provided include life skills training, which involves learning to write and build a resume. Medical and dental facilities will be on-site. Mental health and addiction services also be provided. Tutors will be available to students. No drugs, alcohol or firearms will be permitted.

Residents will live there, so it will not be a drop-in facility. Residents will undergo screening by the Housing Solutions Center to ensure they are appropriate for the shelter. A resident will be allowed to remain as long as needed, Borg said.

The shelter will be the first of its kind in South Kitsap and is comparable in size to Bremerton’s Salvation Army shelter and the homeless program at the Quality Inn, Borg said.

Kitsap Rescue Mission will operate the facility. The nonprofit ran the shelter at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds during COVID and currently oversees the program at Quality Inn.

The Port Orchard shelter will be unique in that pets are allowed. Planners say there will be space for up to 20 animals, primarily dogs and cats. A veterinary clinic will be on-site. There will also be a daycare for animals.

Accommodating pets is expected to convince more people to live at the shelter. Many who live on the streets have turned down offers of a shelter because they refused to be separated from their furry friends, Borg said.

“Pets are very important for most humans. If faced with having to stay in a tent with a pet or get housed without your pet, the majority of people will want to stay in tents. We don’t want that to be a barrier,” he said.

Some opposition

Opposition to the shelter early on came from the Mile Hill Public Safety Organization. The group, with over 280 members, disbanded in October after the project’s conditional use permit was approved.

“As things went on, more and more of our group felt that the government was not working for us in this instance. What they should be doing as the government is to provide safety and security. But that wasn’t their focus,” said David Grout, who led the group.

The group’s main objection was the county didn’t evaluate whether the facility would safely fit into the community. Grout said his takeaway from leading the two-year battle against the shelter was, “Don’t waste your time fighting the government.”

The county purchased the former gym building in 2021 for $1.5 million. County officials report the nearly 5-acre wooded site was chosen because it met zoning requirements, was connected to sewer, already contained numerous restrooms and showers, and was near transportation lines to community services.