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A place for Bremerton vets to grow

Bremerton resident Dennis Olds established the Veterans Bunkhouse Service Center in East Bremerton in 2009 with his wife, Mickie Olds. He is reopening the Bunkhouse next month in a larger building on Rainier Avenue in West Bremerton. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Bremerton resident Dennis Olds established the Veterans Bunkhouse Service Center in East Bremerton in 2009 with his wife, Mickie Olds. He is reopening the Bunkhouse next month in a larger building on Rainier Avenue in West Bremerton.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

After a one-year hiatus, Bremerton’s Veterans Bunkhouse Service Center is reopening to homeless veterans next week, this time with a larger capacity and counseling services.

The aim of the Bunkhouse is to provide a clean and sober house for homeless veterans who are actively seeking work, trying to go to school or secure veterans’ benefits. The apartment-style living, job assistance and drug and alcohol counseling that will be offered is meant to provide a transition to living independently.

“There is no training on how to leave the military and come back and be a civilian,” said Bremerton resident Dennis Olds, a Vietnam Army veteran who established the Bunkhouse with his wife, Mickie Olds. “When you come out you really don’t have any social skills, life skills.”

The previous Bunkhouse opened for a year on Trenton Avenue starting in 2009. During its one year of operation, it housed 12 veterans, four at a time. Eight of those veterans moved on to successful placements in work or school, Olds said. It was a test run for Olds to see whether a larger operation was viable.

The new location, a seven-unit apartment building to house 42 veterans on Rainier Avenue, is scheduled to open in the beginning of February, when it will start to take in residents. Olds hopes to host an open house of the building before veterans move in.

The Bunkhouse’s mission is not just to give homeless veterans a warm bed, but to address the issues that contributed to their homelessness and to keep them at the Bunkhouse until they’re able to live on their own.

The office will be staffed by volunteers undergoing drug and alcohol treatment who are required to complete community service hours.

“We don’t want to enable people,” said George Ritchie, who owns the apartment building and hopes to teach life skills workshops for the residents. “We want to help them deal with those things and move forward to becoming productive members of society.”

Criteria for staying at the Bunkhouse include an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions and an “obtainable goal,” Olds said, such as working at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard or attending Olympic College. Veterans will live there until they have reached that goal.

“As long as they’re helping themselves, that’s how we determine their length of stay,” Olds said. “If they’re going after this goal constantly and pursuing it and getting closer and closer, we’re not going to ask them to leave until the goal is completed and they’re out on their own.”

Joel Courreges, community service officer with Disabled American Veterans, said the open-ended stay is important for homeless veterans.

“It takes more than one month in order to get a leg up,” he said, citing county veterans’ assistance programs that offer $410 for a 10-day hotel stay.

Instead, Olds charges $410 per month from veterans who have a paycheck, unemployment benefits or other forms of financial assistance. If a resident is unable to pay the rent, it can be covered by the Bunkhouse’s Adopt-a-Bed program, in which an organization or private donor contributes one month’s rent.

The Bunkhouse costs $97,000 per year for rent and utilities and operates entirely on donations, including the furniture, kitchen appliances and porcelain figurines that give the apartments a homelike atmosphere.

Residents will follow a schedule in which they are required to pursue their goals and complete chores.

That structured environment is what sets Olds’ service apart from other homeless veteran shelters, Courreges said, and will contribute to the residents’ success.

“Rather than just give them a place to live, he gives them a place to grow from,” he said.

Veterans Bunkhouse Service Center is seeking donations

Address: 111 N. Rainier Avenue

Bremerton, WA 98312

Phone: (360) 782-0332

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