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Bremerton’s homeless dine with elected officials
Sally Santana has been an advocate for the homeless for quite some time and on Aug. 27 she arranged for many of Kitsap County’s elected officials to have lunch with the homeless at the Salvation Army building on Sixth Street in Bremerton.
“We just want to give the homeless a chance to be heard by the people who make decisions,” Santana said.
Representatives for Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, state Rep. Jan Angel and state Rep. Christine Rolfes attended the lunch along with city and county politicians like mayoral candidates Will Maupin and Patty Lent.
Karl Cooper, a homeless man and Salvation Army volunteer, prepared and cooked chicken for the Thursday lunch.
“It gives me a certain sense of satisfaction to be able to help out, even though I am in need of help too,” he said.
Cooper said he became homeless due to a drug addiction years earlier, but volunteering has helped him make a change in his life for the better.
“I look forward to coming here each day,” he said. “It keeps me clean. I do whatever it is they need me to do around here.”
Sheretta Williams and Liz Lacy stood behind the counter at Sally’s, serving food to about 180 homeless people who ventured in for a chance to talk to the public servants who attended the lunch.
“I didn’t realize how many people the (Salvation Army) helped out,” Lacy said. “I think this is great.”
Santana said the homeless would like to see the following from the government: a representative from each mayor’s office to attend a Kitsap County Homeless Advisory Board meeting semi-annually; a police-homeless liaison to resolve issues where the homeless experience “disrespectful and dehumanizing” behavior from law enforcement; safe places for the homeless to park and/or camp; a day center for the homeless to store personal effects during day-to-day business activities and a winter shelter from November to March to escape the cold; and more education for the public to understand homelessness is not always indicative of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
Issues such as severe weather, destruction of property by police and the inability to get to social service appointments due to lack of transportation are points Santana feels need to be addressed by the government, social services offices and the community at large.
Children in these situations are affected to an even greater extent, according to Santana. Having enough food and getting enough sleep to focus in school or while doing homework is often difficult. Also, the embarrassment of being homeless can affect their ability to enjoy a normal life.
“Most people don’t realize how close to homelessness they really are,” Cooper said. “It may only be a paycheck or two, but it can happen to anyone.”