POULSBO — It’s getting colder at night. And darker earlier in the evening. Winter’s on its way.
And as you drive home in your warm car, to your warm house, you can’t help but think about those who have nowhere warm and dry to sleep.
But there is help in Kitsap County.
Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management is ready to open its severe weather shelters should the weather meet its operational regulations.
“Our primary mission is to provide emergency shelter for the homeless,” director Mike Gordon said. “We have volunteers who have been trained and are ready to go.”
Currently, there are severe weather shelters in Bremerton, Silverdale, Poulsbo, Kingston and Port Orchard. The shelters will open if the temperature is expected to be below 32 degrees for four or more hours, or if one or more inches of rain or snow is expected. The decision whether to open is made by Emergency Management Department officials and announced by noon.
A big component of whether all the shelters can open is if volunteers are available to staff them, Gordon said. Each shelter has to have at least two volunteers available from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. in order to open. Hours are broken into three shifts, which means six volunteers are needed for each shelter every time it opens.
“Right now, we have 125 volunteers who can work,” he said. “They come and go throughout the season, and some are more active than others. We all have our own lives and have to work around our other commitments.”
Volunteers have been trained and have had background checks, Gordon said. Some have been with the program for years. Others may be new.
According to Gordon, the shelters were open 46 times last throughout the winter season last year. On average, 60 homeless people were housed overnight each time the shelters opened.
The shelter program began in 2008 and was located at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds and then in Bremerton. Originally, there was one severe weather shelter in Bremerton, Gordon said.
“Then other communities decided it was time to bring a shelter to their locations,” he said. “There was a growing demand.”
While his department doesn’t keep statistics on how many homeless people there are in the county, the Kitsap County Department of Human Resources does. In its annual “Point in Time” homeless count last January, 663 people were counted as having no permanent home. Some were staying in shelters. Others were in transitional housing, or sleeping and living in cars. Of that 663, 205 people said they were living outside in places not meant for human habitation.
In that count, respondents were asked to state their current city of residence. That showed that 57 percent of Kitsap’s homeless people are in Bremerton; in Port Orchard, 11 percent; Poulsbo, 7 percent; Kingston, 5 percent, Silverdale, 4 percent; Bainbridge Island, 1 percent. Fifteen percent didn’t respond.
The survey also showed that 71 percent of Kitsap’s homeless people said their last place of residence was in Kitsap County. The most common characteristics for their homelessness were health issues, economics, or family conflicts. Causes were mental health issues, chronic health issues, disabilities, domestic violence and substance abuse.
Each year, a resources guide is published that lists information about the available food programs, food banks, clothing banks, showers, laundry services, health services, employment services, and other needs. The guides are available at social services offices, food banks, and on the county’s website at www.kitsapgov.com/hs/housing/Documents/Resources/RESOURCEgdWINTER2017-18.pdf.
There’s also information in the guide about locations that are open in the day time hours where people who are homeless can go to get out of the cold.
“Since we operate our shelters in shared space [churches, community centers, etc.] we have to have our visitors out by 7 a.m. and have things cleaned up by 8 a.m. on the nights when we are open,” Gordon said.
He acknowledged that communication about whether the shelters will open is an important piece to the puzzle.
“It’s sometime tough to do,” he said. “One of the reasons why we make the decision whether to open by noon, is so that it can be announced at the various lunch programs that day.”
Too, he said, an announcement is made on the digital signs on the front of Kitsap Transit buses.
“And we do post fliers at the places where we know the homeless go, like the community centers, the libraries and stores,” he added.
Many of nonprofits in the social services network also post signs telling that the shelters are open.
Since there are shelters in five communities now, transportation to the shelters isn’t the problem it used to be. Most are within a walkable distance within the community.
“At one point Kitsap Transit had coupons they would give out to homeless [so they could ride the bus to the shelter],” he said. “We just don’t have the manpower or the money to take on transportation.”
Gordon said sometimes residents in Kitsap County see subjects sleeping outdoors and want to know what to do.
“Often they will call 911 and a law enforcement officer will do a check to make sure they are OK, and will let them know where they can go to get shelter,” he said. “But we’re not there to force anyone into a shelter. There are those who won’t go to shelters for a variety of reasons.”
The Emergency Services severe weather shelters have regulations that require that participants bag their personal belongings.
“They can keep their phones, and prescription medications with them,” he said. “But other items are kept away for the safety of everyone.”
Pets are allowed at most shelters as long as they are in a carrier. And there is no use of drugs or alcohol at the shelters. Participants can smoke outdoors, until 10 p.m. when the doors are locked.
“The rules say that if you leave after 10 p.m., you can’t come back in,” he said. “Again that is for safety.”
Guests are awakened at 6 a.m. and must leave by 7 a.m. Most shelters offer snacks and coffee but it depends on what’s donated. There is no budget for food.
To volunteer or offer help, contact Michele Moen at the Department of Emergency Management, 360-307-5871.
• Silverdale United Methodist Church, 9982 Silverdale Way, Silverdale.
• Gateway Fellowship, 18901 8th Ave. NE, Poulsbo.
• Village Green Community Center, 26159 Dulay Road NE, Kingston.
• Port Orchard United Methodist Church, 725 Kitsap St., Port Orchard.
• The Salvation Army, 832 Sixth St., Bremerton. Beginning Dec. 1, the Salvation Army shelter will be open every night through March 31, regardless of the weather conditions, according to Maj. Scott Ramsey.