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Severe weather shelters open, but not in NK

Kitsap County opened two severe weather shelters this week, but some homeless advocates say the locations left North Kitsap in the cold.

The temporary shelters offer a warm place to sleep for the county’s homeless and anyone else needing to escape sub-freezing temperatures at night. The shelter farthest north is on Burwell Street in Bremerton, a 25-minute drive from Poulsbo. The other is in Port Orchard.

Mark Ince, director of the ShareNet foodbank in Kingston said the severe weather stations would do little to help North Kitsap’s homeless.

“If people don’t have any resources it’s very unlikely that they can get to Bremerton unless they are transported there,” Ince said.

North Kitsap Fishline Client Services Coordinator Raelenea Rodriguez said this week’s cold snap has highlighted an urgent need for shelters in the North End. Fishline has assisted four families in the last six weeks that were living in vehicles, Rodriguez said.

“There are zero shelters, cold weather or otherwise,” she said. “I feel like we get forgotten up here sometimes.”

The two severe weather shelters were organized by the county Department of Emergency Management along with Kitsap Community Resources.

Emergency Management Spokeswoman Susan May said the shelter locations were chosen to serve the largest homeless populations in the county but also based on the availability of space and volunteers.

Coffee Oasis provided space for the Bremerton shelter while the other is housed in the Spirit of Truth Fellowship church in Port Orchard. Several hundred volunteers stepped forward to staff the shelters this year, May said. It takes at least six people to run a shelter for a night.

May said the department’s role is to facilitate emergency shelters and it won’t seek out a North Kitsap location without hearing from an outside agency that a shelter is needed. That message could come from the City of Poulsbo or a service group, May said.

Then if a space was offered and volunteers were found, Emergency Management could help the prospective shelter meet accessibility and safety requirements and sort out liability issues.

“We’d be more than happy to get it all started,” May said.

At least one North Kitsap church has already offered the room.

Connie Lord, an Elder with First Lutheran Church of Poulsbo and a city councilwoman, said the church wants to create a cold weather shelter in its gymnasium space. But the church is still sorting through the requirements and waiting to see if Emergency Management or another agency could assume the liability.

“We have the room to do it,” Lord said. “I’m just trying to understand the bureaucracy behind it.”

Lord said the One Church One Family association of Kitsap churches has been also disussing shelters and she hopes one can be organized in North Kitsap in time to be used this winter.

“It’s not that it’s on the back burner,” Lord said, “it’s just how do we make it work?”

Several churches and community centers in North Kitsap are prepared to open emergency shelters, but will only open in the event of a long-term power outage or natural disaster.

The City of Poulsbo is considering creating a “Safe Park” where families living in vehicles could stay. Two city committees discussed the Safe Park proposal this week.

Rodriguez said the plans are encouraging but solutions are needed quickly.

“It needs to have happened yesterday,” Rodriguez said. “It’s overdue, but it’s in progress.”

Severe weather shelters are open 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Coffee Oasis, 822 Burwell St., Bremerton and Spirit of Truth Fellowship, 902 Dekalb St., Port Orchard. The shelters are expected to stay open through the weekend.

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