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New Bremerton overnight shelter delayed until October

If you find yourself homeless in Bremerton at night or over the weekend, right now you would have no sheltered place to go.

A new coalition hopes to change that with an overnight shelter in October. Bremerton has transitional houses and shelters for domestic violence victims, but no emergency shelter resource after business hours, said Walter LeCouteur, executive director of Kitsap Rescue Mission.

Originally planned to open this spring, the new shelter will take individuals or families in, offer referrals to housing assistance programs and offer a safe place to sleep, LeCouteur said.

LeCouteur said the project started in November 2011 during Homeless Awareness Week.

He’d initially hoped the shelter could open this spring, and wants to look into turning it into a year-round facility.

“The city wasn’t sure we’d get a follow on the first permit, we wanted to make sure we were open the next winter, rather than chance it,” he said. “Logistically, we weren’t ready to open right away, so this gives us summer to get ready.”

Jeannie Vaughn, a Bremerton city building official, said the shelter’s conditional use permit is approved. Building codes allow the city to approve 180-day temporary encampments for the homeless. Full-time shelter facilities are a more complicated process, she said.

When the rescue mission first applied for the temporary permit, Vaughn was concerned about the dual uses of the building as an office and sleeping space. “I did a site visit and my concerns were allayed,” she said.

She anticipates as long as there’s no noise or trash issues, the shelter will probably be able to renew its permit.

It will also replace the city’s cold weather shelter, which opens on nights when temperatures reach freezing levels.

“We found that people weren’t ever sure when it would be open, so we’re hoping this one is better utilized,” LeCouteur said.

Notices announcing the emergency shelter’s opening days throughout the fall and winter are sent out via email.

LeCouteur works with several county housing organizations and will serve as the new shelter’s administrator.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 people are homeless in Kitsap County as of January, said LeCouteur.

The estimate is based on data collected by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, which asks people applying for food assistance benefits if they are homeless.

“A very small percent are chronic homeless,” he said. “So many are on the streets because of bankruptcy or unemployment.”

Many local social service providers say that the chronically homeless often do not want to be involved with shelters because of restrictions requiring sobriety or that the homeless get connected with social services and make an effort to stop being homeless.

According to the Kitsap Public Health District, the newly homeless outnumber the chronically homeless 2 to 1.

The overnight shelter is a partnership between Kitsap Applied Technologies, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities, North Kitsap Fishline, a non profit that provides food and emergency services, and the Kitsap Rescue Mission.

Kitsap Applied Technologies will provide the space at its office on 4195 Wheaton Way, where the shelter will open from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., and staff will ensure homeless people aren’t on the property during daytime business hours, LeCouteur said.

Sally Santana volunteers with several organizations, including the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition. She said the new shelter is much needed.

“This is one of those times when finally the stars seemed to align, the money became available, the building, all the things we needed to come together,” she said.

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