Bremerton tent city in the works

Maj. Jim Baker points to the parking lot behind the Bremerton Salvation Army where he plans to host a tent city for the homeless. Tents would be placed on top of wooden pallets to avoid water seeping in from the bottom.   - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Maj. Jim Baker points to the parking lot behind the Bremerton Salvation Army where he plans to host a tent city for the homeless. Tents would be placed on top of wooden pallets to avoid water seeping in from the bottom.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Planning for a tent city in the parking lot of the Bremerton Salvation Army is underway and has gained support by homeless advocates as winter weather kicks in.

“Believe it or not, Salvation Army has never done a tent city before,” Maj. Jim Baker said Monday of the Bremerton location, adding that Salvation Army typically helps people who have been struck by disaster such as Haiti earthquake victims.

After a tent city proposed for the parking lot of the Hillcrest Assembly in East Bremerton fell through last month, the Outside Homeless Committee of the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition didn’t stop searching for an alternative. At a committee meeting last week, Baker suggested using the Salvation Army’s parking lot to host a temporary tent city since the property is available. The committee had already researched how to run a tent encampment while preparing for the Hillcrest Assembly site. Salvation Army is located on Sixth Street and Warren Avenue and its 70-by-130-foot lot is directly behind the building on Seventh Street. The entire parking lot would not be used for shelter.

Baker said the facility could accommodate about 20 people or 10 tents. The tent city will only be available for families. There will be one community tent that will include tables, chairs, a microwave and mini refrigerator. Portable toilets and mobile showers will be brought into the area as well. The premises will be fenced off and those staying at the encampment will be required to submit to background checks and wear identification badges. The Salvation Army plans to recruit volunteers to provide around-the-clock security.

“The neighborhood is comfortable with our clientele so to do this makes sense,” Baker said.

Bobbie Campbell lives two blocks north of Salvation Army and supports a tent city being placed at that location.

“They are a community within themselves,” Campbell said of tent cities in general. “They are regular people.” She is not worried that it will disrupt the neighborhood but has heard that other neighbors have concerns.

Marion Crook lives on Seventh Street and said she has a lot of questions about the project including how sanitation will be handled and if pets will be allowed. Although she has many questions, she is not opposed to it.

“I’m not going to stand in the way,” Crook said. “Most people that really need help will not make a problem.”

Happy Teriyaki Sushi is located next door to the Salvation Army and Emily Kim, manager of the restaurant, said sometimes people who use Salvation Army resources come to the restaurant asking for bags or to use the restroom. A tent city may increase the number of non-customers coming into the restaurant, she said.

“It’s a little bit of a concern for us,” Kim said.

Baker has received approval from the Salvation Army’s northwest division to pursue the project. He anticipates it will be up and running Jan. 1 if not sooner, but no permits have been issued yet. Bremerton City Council President Nick Wofford said Wednesday that the Council won’t have a say on the project and if organizers meet all permitting requirements, it will move forward.

However, he is doubtful if tents would be effective.

“With this type of weather coming in — especially if this is for families — tracking snow and rain into tents doesn’t sound like the best solution,” Wofford said. Tent encampments during the summer would be fine but during the winter, using vacant buildings for shelter would be an alternative, he added.

Joel Adamson, who has been working on getting a homeless shelter setup on his property on Bowen Street in East Bremerton continues to wait to see if the county will waive application fees for him to apply for a residential housing permit.

“Heated cabins are always preferable to a fabric tent,” Adamson said, adding that his idea for cabins to shelter the homeless does not necessarily have to be on his property if the county will provide alternative options. A letter from pastors of 11 churches including many from Bremerton, was delivered to the county commissioners Wednesday, expressing their interest in the county providing land to set up cabins for the homeless if Adamson’s property is not approved.

The Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition will host Project Connect on Jan. 26 in East Bremerton, which will offer resources and services for low income and homeless people in the county. Items available for free will include flashlights, sleeping bags and lanterns, said Beverly Kincaid, coordinator of the event.

“We’re trying to accommodate this new project as well as existing needs,” Kincaid said of providing for those in tent city. Other services will include free hair cuts, vision exams, and help with housing placement.

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