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Kitsap's drug treatment cuts could increase homelessness, officials say

Cutbacks in drug rehabilitation and mental health funds could impact a range of services and significantly increase the amount of homeless people in Kitsap County, according to local officials.

“The governor’s new budget has completely omitted several important programs,” said Kitsap County Substance Abuse Coordinator Betsy Bosch. “We have no idea how we will fund these services.”

In the face of an $8 billion budget deficit, the budget presented by Gov. Chris Gregoire has recommended the elimination of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Treatment and Support Act (ADATSA) and the general assistance unemployable program, which respectively support transitioning drug addicts and people who are unable to find employment due to mental disabilities.

The threatened cuts follow news of a funding scramble for the Kitsap Recovery Center, an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility located in East Bremerton.

All of the programs are linked as their individual efficacy depends on their working together.

Bosch has spent the past several weeks juggling budgets for several of these programs, but concedes some may not receive funding.

“Most of the programs are funded through June,” she said. “But on July 1, the cuts will take effect. And when the programs are no longer funded, there will be a ripple effect, like a stone on a pond.”

The most visible effect could be an immediate increase in the local homeless population because both programs are designed to pay for housing for people who have no other rent options.

Kitsap County’s most recent homeless census in January reported 937 homeless. Of this number, 276 were children. This statistic, according to volunteer Bev Kincaid, is the most disturbing.

“Homeless children have the highest risk factor,” she said. “As they grow into adulthood, there are mental and emotional problems that result from being homeless at a young age. They continue to require intervention and treatment.”

Even with these danger signals, Kincaid thinks that a solution will emerge — either through creative funding or federal stimulus money.

“I don’t think we need to go into panic mode,” she said. “We will be able to live with the situation.”

Linda Kerkes, who runs the ADATSA program out of the Kitsap Recovery Center, isn’t so optimistic.

“When someone gets out of an inpatient drug program, they need to go to a stable place,” she said. “If they don’t have access to a clean and sober environment, they will go back to where they lived before and fall back into their old habits. The first three or four months after getting out are the most important.”

After months of attempted problem solving, Kerkes is shifting into desperation mode. On Monday night she brought several recovering addicts in front of the Kitsap County commissioners to tell their stories.

“If not for this program I wouldn’t be here tonight talking to you. I would be sitting across the street, in the jail,” one explained.

Commissioner meetings have two public comment opportunities, at the beginning and the end of the agenda. ADATSA participated in both.

Kerkes spoke first and the recovering addicts spoke later.

“This goes against the whole idea of a 12-step program, which is to stay anonymous,” she said. “But we need to speak out.”

The speakers implored the commissioners to save the program, which prompted a clarification from Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown.

“We support these programs,” he said.

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