According to the annual Point-In-Time Count completed in January, 533 people in Kitsap County reported being homeless and nearly 200 of them reported living in places that are not meant for human habitation.
Preliminary results show a 12-percent increase over the 2019 count including a 15-percent increase in unsheltered homelessness.
Also reflected in this 2020’s count was an overall 9.5 percent increase of individuals living in emergency and transitional shelters. Surveys were collected throughout the county during a 24-hour period at the end of January.
“The Point-In-Time Count provides us with the information we need to direct funding and other housing resources,” said Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, chair of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners.
“This increase in those living without homes underscores the continuing need for countywide collaboration and partnerships to create more temporary, transitional and longer-term affordable housing.”
The survey showed 183 people living in emergency shelters (including two overnight shelters), and 151 housed in subsidized transitional housing units. In 2020, more than 130 citizen volunteers donated over 450 hours, to help conduct the survey.
“This is truly a community-wide effort. We could not do this enormous task without the many community volunteers who care about this issue and provide countless hours of assistance with this survey project,” said Kirsten Jewell, Housing and Homelessness Division manager for Kitsap County Human Services.
In addition to surveying at food banks and community meal sites, volunteers paired with outreach workers to survey encampments, parking lots and people living on the street. This year, Kitsap County expanded its program to recruit and work with people who have experienced homelessness to gain their expertise and improve the Point-In-Time Count.
“Every year we work to make sure our count is more accurate and that we find as many people as possible during the survey period,” Jewell said.
“Even so, we know there are other people that either we don’t find, or who don’t want to be found. We recognize these results do not include everyone experiencing homelessness and should be considered a minimum number.”
A significant factor in the number of unsheltered versus sheltered people over the last few years has been the addition of overnight shelter beds hosted by the Salvation Army, serving 60-plus people per night. The winter shelter is slated to close until next winter on March 15.
“Although these are preliminary numbers, they certainly reflect what we are seeing on the street and in homeless programs – many households struggling with the basic human need of shelter,” Jewell said. “We have a robust and effective homeless crisis response system, but it just can’t keep up with the volume of people who are being displaced into homelessness.”
The Kitsap Rescue Mission also provides beds for 26 people per night but was temporarily shut down in October after the City of Bremerton decided not to renew their shelter permit due to fire safety concerns with the building. Since closing, KRM has been operating upstairs in the Salvation Army shelter, set to close March 15. In a stroke of luck, KRM Executive Director Nancy Olsten said the Salvation Army has agreed to extend their hospitality, allowing the overnight shelter to remain through July if needed.
Through fundraisers and donations, Kitsap County’s only overnight homeless shelter reached its goal of $171,800 for phase one of the renovation project, which includes installing a sprinkler system. KRM will be presenting their first phased plan to Bremerton City Council next week for approval.
“If they approve our plan, that should give us enough time to finish the sprinkler system and roof replacement (for which we still need about $100,000),” Olsten said in an email to the North Kitsap Herald.
Project Connect service fairs are held in conjunction with the Kitsap County Point in Time Count and offer access to valuable resources for individuals and families who may be homeless or face the imminent risk of homelessness. This year, three Project Connect events were held in Bremerton, Poulsbo and Port Orchard. Over 50 organizations provided services including housing referrals, immunizations, eye exams, health screenings, rabies shots, sleeping bags, coats, haircuts, and more.
The Salvation Army also provided participants with a hot lunch in Bremerton and Port Orchard. About 25 students from the North Kitsap Options middle school program in Kingston helped with the event in Bremerton and prepared and served meals at the Poulsbo Project Connect.
The Kitsap Housing and Homelessness Coalition, a community network of homeless and affordable housing service providers and organizations serving low-income residents, coordinates the Project Connect events.