An opposition group has formed in Poulsbo following recent revelations of multiple high-level sex offenders living in a shared residence — operating under contract with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services — in the 17000 block of Viking Way.
Pamela Benson is an organizer with the group Washington State for Public Safety, which has stated as its goal: exacting the closure of the Viking Way LRA through any legal means possible. The group held a community meeting of their own on Saturday, Dec. 15, just two days after a meeting at Poulsbo City Hall, organized by Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder.
“We had between 50 and 75 people attend,” Benson said. “It was a meeting to update the community and begin recruiting … because we need bodies.”
Benson said the group is seeking to establish 501(c)(3) status so that donations made to its legal fund may be tax-deductible.
“We consider this a legal battle as well as a political battle. However, we are not entering the realm of politics with this because we will be starting out as a 501(c)(3),” she added.
Benson explained that Washington State for Public Safety hopes to close the Viking Way group home with a three-pronged attack through public pressure, legal action and examining possible code violations at the property.
“Should legislative action be pursued by this group, it would have to be underneath the umbrella of a sub-organization,” she explained. “Our secondary long-term goal is to encourage other community groups, individuals and concerned citizens to join us in helping change the legislation, the laws to keep these offenders out of our community. This is grassroots at its best.”
Another point brought up by organizers with Washington State for Public Safety – aside from the concerns related to public safety – were the effect that the Viking Way group home could have on nearby property values.
“We have some very, very concerned property owners that are very close,” Benson said. “We have some elderly couples that have invested almost their entire adult life into these properties and plan to sell them to either move into a retirement home or their long-term care.”
A 2014 study by the Washington State Sex Offender Policy Board concluded that the presence of sex offenders does indeed affect property values.
“In some areas the cluster of four or more sex offenders coincides with a large discount on the sale price. Specifically, a cluster of four or more offenders leads to a sharp $25,099 (or 16%) drop in price of nearby homes,” the study reads.
Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said at the Dec. 13 meeting that one of the major concerns he had was the lack of involvement the county had in the siting process. According to DSHS Spokesperson Chris Wright, when siting a group home, no notification is given to the community prior to the location’s approval for offender housing.
“The Special Commitment Center provides a law enforcement notification to the county sheriff 30 days prior to the resident releasing,” Wright wrote in an email. “Additionally, the Special Commitment Center provides Victim/Witness Notification to victims of the offenders that are enrolled in the program. There is not a formal notification process for the public before a community placement LRA is approved.”
Alan Frey, administrator for Westsound Support Services — the group contracted through DSHS to oversee the group home on Viking Way — said the public’s reaction has been influenced by misinformation being spread, and while Frey declined to do an interview for this story, he did agree to provide answers to questions submitted via email.
When asked what misinformation he has seen circulated, Frey said:
“The people we are serving have been dehumanized as a pack of animals roaming the community. We serve clients with intellectual or other cognitive disabilities that, in each case, have been supported for community release by DSHS, an independently retained expert hired by the Attorney General’s Office, and a Superior Court judge. Each client is subject to a more intensive list of rules and restrictions than I have seen in any other context. They are accompanied by our specially-trained staff at all times when they are in the community.”
—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org