Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder speaks to a crowd of concerned citizens at Centennial Park during a Walk and Talk event in Poulsbo on Saturday, Dec. 1. Nick Twietmeyer | Kitsap News Group.

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder speaks to a crowd of concerned citizens at Centennial Park during a Walk and Talk event in Poulsbo on Saturday, Dec. 1. Nick Twietmeyer | Kitsap News Group.

Residents upset about sex offenders being housed in Poulsbo

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder addressed public safety concerns at a Saturday Walk and Talk

A crowd of concerned citizens formed in Poulsbo on Saturday in response to plans to relocate several high-risk sex offenders from the McNeil Island Special Commitment Center to a property located in the 17000 block of Viking Way NW.

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder addressed a crowd of about 50 people in attendance during his Saturday Walk and Talk event in Poulsbo.

“I’m assuming that a majority of folks are concerned about the housing for some level-three sex offenders off of Viking Way,” Gelder said as he greeted the crowd on the foggy morning. “I only heard about it yesterday,” he added, explaining that he would share what information he could with those in attendance.

“I will facilitate a community meeting with the neighborhood, with the sheriff’s office as well as the Department of Corrections. They’re the content experts so they’ll be able to provide you more information,” he said.

The property is being leased by West Sound Support Services, Gelder said. The group is operating under contract with the Department of Social and Health Services, which operates the McNeil Island facility.

“[West Sound Support Services] are the same individuals that operate Kitsap Tenant Support Services. They operate group homes,” Gelder said, noting that the group was indeed a private business.

According to its website, the DSHS Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island provides “specialized mental health treatment for civilly committed sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences.” The website also states that courts may determine residents of McNeil Island to be applicable for conditional release to less-restrictive alternative community placement. “The Court must be convinced, after considering evidence and expert testimony, that the proposed living arrangement will provide adequate protection for the community,” the DSHS website says.

“When somebody petitions to move to a less-restrictive arrangement … it’s still a civil commitment,” Gelder said. “They basically have no freedoms. They do wear ankle bracelets. They have to be supervised 24/7. They have no ability to move around the community unless they have an approved itinerary.”

“So these are annexes for the prisons, is what you’re saying?” asked a voice in the crowd.

“Correct,” Gelder said. “It’s a lower level of support and care, so they’re now shifting to paying this contractor.”

When asked why the county couldn’t simply block such a site from being allowed, Gelder said existing state laws have essentially tied the county’s hands.

“Right now in RCW, the state law, there are clauses that prohibit the local jurisdictions from doing a certain amount of prohibition of the housing,” the commissioner said.

Three level-three sex offenders are currently registered with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office as residing on the 17000 block of Viking Way NW.

“The contract is for four to five individuals with a possibility of more,” Gelder said.

A community meeting has been scheduled for Thursday Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in Poulsbo City Hall’s council chambers. Commissioner Gelder, Legislative Representative Sherry Appleton are expected to be present for the meeting as well as representatives from the Washington State Department of Corrections, DSHS, Kitsap County Department of Community Development, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and West Sound Support Services.

— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.

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