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Safe parks: The first step to recovery

POULSBO — A safe park designated for homeless women and women who are victims of domestic violence opened in Poulsbo this week. Organizers hope the park provides its clients a stepping stone to temporary shelter, and later permanent housing.

“We are the first city in the county to have a safe park program,” said Raelenea Rodriquez, a North Kitsap Fishline client services advocate. North Kitsap Fishline runs the park with a local faith-based community, which dedicated enough land to house four vehicles overnight.

The park provides clients a secure place to sleep in their vehicles. Clients are also given access to a counselor and a case manager, who will help them set goals and transition into shared housing, then permanent housing of their own. The city of Poulsbo donated cell phones for clients to use at the park, which is well-lit for safety and located near shower facilities.

Its location is confidential.

The park was approved by Poulsbo’s city council earlier this year. Poulsbo Police will be notified when a client is staying there, and will patrol the area.

The park joins two other service houses in Poulsbo: Eli’s Place, an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims, and a Kitsap Community Resources transition home for families, which provides up to a year of housing. A severe weather shelter opened at Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church this year, which gives the homeless a respite from extreme cold.

Rodriquez anticipates many of the safe park’s clients will be age 45-60; women who are no longer raising children and have either divorced or retired. The number of such potential clients is increasing in the area, she added. Many are former successful businesswomen.

“I have women, in their 50’s or 60’s, that have ruled the world. And they’re saying ‘I’m at the bottom, I don’t know what to do,’” Rodriquez said.

The safe park accepts only women, and each client must pass a background check. Other shelters in the county are more equipped to meet the needs of women with children, Rodriquez said. There is also a men’s shelter in Bremerton, so “we’re all taking a piece,” she said.

A Kitsap Community Resources safe park, the only other in the county, has served 17 families — 59 individual parents and children — since its 2009 opening. That park, which hosts up to eight vehicles overnight, has been a model for Fishline.

A St. Vincent de Paul emergency shelter in Bremerton has turned away nearly 100 women and children since opening in March due to lack of space. It has so far housed 34 women and 10 children.

“We built the shelter to hold 17 women and children and it has been full continuously,” said assistant office coordinator Polly Gerrish. “As soon as one bed empties, it’s full again.”

Rodriquez announced her intentions to create a safe park in Poulsbo during a homelessness summit held in Kitsap last year. She established the park with help from Kitsap Community Resources and Poulsbo elected officials, as well as other area homeless advocates.

A final arrangement before the park could open was securing insurance for portable toilets, which cost about $80 each month. Fishline is also seeking grants and other funding for its supply of toiletries, towels and gasoline cards. The nonprofit often provides clients with thrift store clothing vouchers and first month’s rent.

Rodriquez is now widening her vision for Poulsbo services, and hopes to increase Fishline’s programs in the future.

“Now, I want a shelter,” she said.

Contact North Kitsap Fishline at (360) 779-5190 or at www.nkfishline.org.

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