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Homeless men find a haven in Kitsap

Kitsap’s houses of worship have become temporary shelters for homeless men.

Tonight about 10 men will be dropped at St Olaf’s Catholic Church in Poulsbo where they will share a meal and sleep. At 7 a.m. the next morning they will be shuttled back to the Salvation Army. Then they will return to the streets.

Catholic Community Services of Bremerton has taken up the charge to provide winter shelter for homeless men in the county — something not done for about six years. Sister Pat Millen has called on churches in the area to open their doors and share their food with the less fortunate.

Millen has contacted about 25 churches and most have been willing to help in select ways. Sylvan Way Baptist Church held a blanket drive and others have offered to prepare meals.

She spoke to the First United Methodist Church of Bremerton congregation regarding the project. They have agreed to prepare meals for the men in March. St. Lukes United Methodist Church of Bremerton will provide a place to sleep.

“Part of our understanding of our faith, is to reach out to those in need,” said Pastor Earl Rice of First United Methodist.

But it’s not the only way the church reaches out. The last Friday of the month they host Bread for Bremerton from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The project, which is a stop gap until a permanent shelter is built, crosses denominational lines.

“Sister Pat’s talked to people who haven’t talked to each other in a long time and I think God’s working in that,” Rice said.

The Homeless Outreach Shelter Team (HOST) project sponsored by Catholic Community Services recently received a $150,000 matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant would provide $50,000 in match funds for three years.

The program is based on a similar one used in Kent and is aimed at the estimated 200 homeless men in Kitsap County.

According to a 2001 survey conducted in the county, 62 percent of the homeless men were “residing” in Bremerton.

The churches won’t be proselytizing but merely providing a safe haven on winter nights, the program runs from November to April until a permanent shelter can be constructed.

“I want to confirm the numbers,” Millen said

“If we build a shelter will they come?” she said.

To be considered for the program the men must be at least 18, a resident of Kitsap County for 30 days, they must have a photo ID and get a reduced fare card for Kitsap Transit.

Right now the program serves 11 men, but about 50 applications have been submitted. Some have been in the program since it started and others have been asked to leave.

The men are to abide by house rules Millen said. There is zero tolerance for bringing drugs or alcohol into the makeshift shelter. Violence is not tolerated as well.

Holy Trinity Catholic Church of Bremerton has hosted the group of homeless men for the past month. Most of the men have been reverent during their time there.

A staff, which is mostly women, is provided by Catholic Community Services and help the men with tasks such as job hunting and finding permanent housing.

“The men will tell you the women have been praying for them, helping them and it has changed them,” Millen said.

Beverly Kincaid, grants manager for Catholic Community Services, said it was interesting to see “the mothering and mentoring in this project.”

“There’s many good things that are evolving out of this,” she said.

“We’ll provide case management to make sure the men are linked up to the services they need, such as mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment, as well as veterans benefits,” she said.

The seed for the HOST project was planted when Our Lady Star of the Sea demanded the men have the shelter, Kincaid said. Homeless people apparently would sleep on the pews and frighten church members who would come to pray.

Our Lady Star of the Sea has agreed to host the men in December.

“It’s been a powerful experience to see the uniting of the faith community to meet a human need. It’s refreshing,” Kincaid said.

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