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Delivering for the homeless
Larry Cooney’s mission continues into the dark of night, when shops have closed and pedestrians are few.
From the perch of a 1978 Chevy Step Van, equipped with food, hygiene products and care-packs, he rumbles down Highway 303 to the next site.
There they wait, the cold and hungry — the homeless.
As the start-up director of the Bremerton Rescue Mission, a nearly all-volunteer organization that seeks to reroute the lives of the homeless, Cooney’s job is to feed those who can’t feed themselves.
“We figured we would need to mobilize lots of volunteers and churches throughout the county, to get services out to the far reaches of the county,” said Cooney, who purchased the Chevy for $9,000 as part of an effort to extend the fight against homelessness beyond Bremerton. “There is a need for services all over the county. We see a kind of tier-one service level in Bremerton and a tier-two level in other parts of the county.”
Bremerton Rescue Mission volunteers serve hot meals at the HUB Community Center off Highway 303 on Friday nights, and the organization will begin serving meals at Bikini Joe’s (Thursdays) and Rocket Expresso (Mondays) in January. A fourth site at a location to be determined could go up this spring.
Many of the volunteers, Cooney said, purchase and cook the food themselves.
“We’ve been overwhelmed at the outpouring of generosity from people in Kitsap,” Cooney said. “We got a flood of coats, blankets and food items from so many generous people, to give away. And we’ve had folks — even the folks eating our dinners — give us cash to help buy the groceries. It has been incredible.”
There are more than 1,000 homeless people across the county, according to a one-night count conducted by United Way in March, and the highest concentrations are in Bremerton.
But Cooney hopes the Bremerton Rescue Mission expands, establishing service locations across the county using “meal trucks” such as his delivering food and supplies to all of them. He is currently outfitting the 1978 rig with a generator and other supplies.
New Life Kitsap and Hillcrest Assembly, as well as individual parties, are raising money to buy mobile shower units, which should be ready for use when the mission opens the two sites in January. The organization also helps people make the transition from street life to a career.
Cooney, a father of three, hopes those who are currently benefiting from the mission establish themselves and give back to the community.
The county’s unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in November, according to the Washington Department of Employment Security.
“The mission will begin to reach men and women who, as part of their way back to healthy living, will need to work again,” he said. “We will look to invest in multiple mobile units ... . We have a group of business leaders who are eager to invest in these micro-businesses and provide the poor and formerly homeless with business mentorship.”
The mission also is saving money to purchase a small home, where those without one could go for shelter, and its outreach efforts span from parking lots to community centers to churches — wherever there is need.
“In short, we want to see a homeless person regain their God-given dignity and purpose,” Cooney said.