By Bob Smith
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — Tim Blair could be excused for his overflowing exuberance last weekend while presiding over the commotion made by a few dozen people May 13 at a parking lot across from That One Place Restaurant off of Lund Avenue.
Blair, the pastor of Ekklesia Church of South Kitsap, was a nonstop human informational kiosk Saturday morning as he shared with visitors why dozens of volunteers had gathered at the site to hammer, saw plywood sheets and lift stud walls into place with the goal of building three small 8-by-12-foot structures.
Members of his church, and volunteers from First Lutheran Church in Port Orchard, made up the bulk of the work party, Blair said. They partnered to build the three structures. Nine more will be constructed in the near future to form a small village.
These small structures — organizers prefer to call them “cottages” — will soon serve as transitional housing for homeless people in Kitsap County, some of whom later this year will live in a gated and supervised village of 12 units located at a yet-to-be-determined location in South Kitsap.
In less than half a day, the volunteers had mostly completed building the exterior shells of the tiny cottages, complete with windows and just awaiting finishing work inside. The end result will be spartan, for sure. The interiors will include a platform for a mattress and cubicles to house personal items.
They won’t be equipped with plumbing or bathroom fixtures — a portable structure that eventually will house bathroom and shower facilities has been donated by Central Kitsap School District. When it’s renovated, it also will have a kitchen that residents can use to prepare meals.
“The first prototype village will be in South Kitsap,” Blair said.
“Later, we will have a central and northern location. And the Suquamish tribe is going to start developing one just like this in their area.”
The building effort, which will continue Saturday, May 20 when volunteers finish roofing and painting the cottages, is a culmination of planning and legwork by a committee called Homes For All, led by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido.
Group members include representatives from county social-services agencies and non-profits, as well as area members of the faith community, who have been strategizing ways to address the county’s nagging homelessness problem.
Closely following the success of similar transitional housing villages in Seattle and elsewhere in the country, Homes For All members elected to follow a similar path. These transitional cottages will offer residents a chance to escape the rain or get out of damp tents and into dry, warm quarters while they work to get their lives in order.
“These cottages are a lot more stable than tents and more comfortable in this climate,” Garrido said while watching the volunteers busily assemble the structures. “They also are a safe place to live. The villages will allow people to build a sense of community and self-confidence.
“I just think it’s a good thing and I’ve seen it work in other areas. I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work here.”
These villages will be everything that ad hoc tent communities are not; they will be case-managed, secured with a gate house and offer a controlled environment, Blair said.
Not just anyone can show up. Residents will need to be referred to the community by the county’s Housing Solutions Center, which works with area organizations to provide emergency housing for homeless residents.
“People who will live there will undergo background checks before moving in,” he added.
Case managers will work with residents to find job and social-services help, as well. And to maintain the long-term sustainability of the village, residents will pay between $80 and $90 a month to live there.
“We’re not feeding people,” Blair said, “but we’ll have a shed where people can bring donations to be shared with residents.”
Not only will these tiny houses be more humane living quarters, he said, they are much more cost-effective than constructing a traditional permanent housing facility.
“When you think about how much it would cost to build a shelter — some organizations spend several million dollars doing so — this village is going to cost under $100,000. Each cottage costs about $2,000.”
Depending on the good graces of area hardware store businesses, the cost can come in considerably under that cost.
“We went to Lowes, and they really stepped up to the plate. We got 20 percent off of what the cost normally would be. Our cost ended up being $1,742. Maybe we’ll get a bidding war going between some of the hardware stores!”
The three structures, when completed, will be taken to various locations to show area residents what the transitional village concept is all about.
Blair said in a week or two, one of the cottages will sit at the corner of Frederick and Bay streets in downtown Port Orchard for two weeks. He hopes to be able to raise money for the venture from area residents while it’s there.
“We’ll need to raise $50,000 to $60,000 to refurbish the portable and develop the land the cottages will sit on,” Blair added.
He and committee member Randy Spitzer have put together a visual presentation they are using to inform community and faith-based organizations about the concept.
For Garrido, this milestone day was just another step forward to find humane housing, however temporary, for area citizens who don’t have a roof over their heads.
“It’s really rewarding to see so many different people come together for their own reasons to be able to help those who need it,” she said.