More than 50,000 letters soliciting help for the area’s homeless population are in the mail, bound for residents throughout Kitsap County.
Volunteers and workers at the Kitsap Rescue Mission have been stuffing envelopes over the course of the last week, preparing for their first major fund-raising drive since opening in 2009.
The Rescue Mission sends mail to about 1,200 constituents each month, but this is the first time they’ve attempted such a large mailing.
“(We) basically want to get the word out about what we do and the needs that we have, to have that support in the community,” said Walter Le Couteur, executive director.
Le Couteur hopes the drive will find people in a giving mood during the holiday season.
“Most acquisition drives like this yield about 5 percent. I’m hoping and praying this one will be more fruitful,” he said.
Between Tuesday and Saturday, 18 volunteers provided more than 200 hours of service stuffing envelopes, many even taking letters home to pack during the evenings.
The Kitsap Rescue Mission is a Christian non-profit organization based in Bremerton. The organization, founded in 2009, seeks to help those in Kitsap County who lack basic needs, such as homes or meals.
The Rescue Mission serves meals at several locations in Central Kitsap, as well as operating a mobile shower unit for those without access to hygiene facilities. The Mission also runs Fresh Start, a housing program that helps men and women get back on their feet in the community, and Georgia’s House, a shelter for women and children.
Georgia’s House is run in partnership with other local groups. The Weaver Foundation performs the operational functions, Kitsap Community Resources works on case management and ParaTransit provides resources such as the building and utilities.
Despite the multiple fronts on which the Rescue Mission operates, Le Couteur says they hope to expand their outreach into an overnight shelter and a program facility to provide help with long-term recovery.
In order to implement these new programs, however, Kitsap Rescue Mission needs more funding. They’ve gathered their resources, called for volunteers and begun work on their acquisition drive to help get the word out.
The Rescue Mission’s acquisition drive comes at a critical time for the county’s homeless population. As winter approaches, and snow is already falling in the mountains, the Rescue Mission is in special need of outdoor items, such as tents and sleeping bags.
“We have a lot of outdoor homeless in the county, and the tents that they’re given are the small inexpensive tents that do not hold up well,” Le Couteur said. “So what happens is they deteriorate in a couple months and then have to be replaced.”
Between July 2009 and June 2010, more than 37,000 people in Kitsap County applied and qualified for the Basic Food Assistance, often referred to colloquially as food stamps, which provides meal assistance to low-income individuals and families.
That’s 15.3 percent of Kitsap County’s residents.
According to statistics released by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, more than 2,600 of the basic food assistance recipients in Kitsap County were homeless as of March.
Because the numbers released by the Social and Health Service Department were based on food assistance recipients, Le Couteur believes the true number is likely even higher.
However, not all of those 2,600 estimated in the survey are “outdoor homeless” persons. Many of them are living with others, couch-surfing from place to place, or living in their vehicles.
Le Couteur stressed the diversity of homelessness in Kitsap County, saying that for many, lack of food or housing can hit unexpectedly. One day things seem fine, and the next they’re forced to seek assistance for their basic needs.
“Homelessness doesn’t just affect the poor,” he said.
The acquisition drive is just the beginning of the Kitsap Rescue Mission’s plans. Le Couteur said there are plenty of needs in Kitsap County that must still be met. Local shelters are often full, homeless single men are often ignored or neglected and the area lacks substantial resources for detox and long-term recovery.
“That’s part of the reason for this acquisition, is to lay that groundwork out there for people to invest, and not just money, but time and even attitude,” Le Couteur said. “That goes a long way.”