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Neighbors say ‘no way’ to homeless shelter

Neighbors hate the idea.

It ruins their property values and endangers their children, they say.

Even the director of the largest food line in town thinks its the wrong location.

But Sister Pat Millen, the Family Center Developer for Catholic Community Services, is determined to get a $1.6 million homeless shelter built at Cambrian and Rodgers Street by January 2005.

“I believe that location is the best in the city of Bremerton,” she said. “It’s ideal.” She sites its nearness to the food bank St. Vincent De Paul, up the street at Callow Avenue, as well as proximity to the Kitsap Transit busline.

The non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity owns the parcel at the end of the gateway project. Habitat for Humanity has agreed to give the plot of land to Catholic Community Services for free if the shelter is built within five years.

Currently, there is no overnight permanent facility for homeless men in Kitsap County, even though recent surveys found that there are over 700 people currently living on the streets, in abandoned cars or old buildings.

The shelter will house 25 men, and will include showers, a dining area, as well as educational services, phones and computers to help the men get jobs.

“The problem I have is this is a residential area,” said Jim Higgins, who bought a house with his wife Athena on Summit Avenue six years ago.

“It’s very near-sighted. I think a downtown facility is the only real answer to the homeless problem.”

Neighbors share a host of concerns, from the possibility that those not admitted to the shelter will roam their neighborhood or sleep on their lawns. Some are worried about their children. Others cite increased crime concerns.

“When you are homeless there is desperation there,” said Jim’s wife Athena, who was assistant director of Street Outreach Services in Seattle, a homeless center. “How do you survive, how do you eat?”

Maj. Jim Baker runs the local Salvation Army on Burwell Street. Every day, they serve about 120 meals — like steak or pancakes or salads — to homeless men and women.

Baker acknowledges that a number of homeless men and women have drug and alcohol addictions, but so does the rest of the population, he said.

“The homeless are not that different. A lot of people don’t choose to be homeless. A lot of them would like an opportunity to get on their feet, they just need a way to do it.”

He believes that a shelter like CCS is proposing is an excellent way because the men can shave, clean their clothes and look presentable enough to apply for a job.

However, he agrees, just like the neighbors, that the facility is best placed elsewhere.

“I am concerned its on the edge of a neighborhood and its right on the edge of the gateway project,” he said.

“Honestly, I think there are other locations that would be available.”

Besides the concern to safety, the residents are very concerned about the aesthetics of the center.

Tiny Collins, a former city council member (1986-93) and resident on South Lafayette, led a group of 10 residents to speak at the city council meeting of July 30.

“We spent $45 million to make a new entry into the city, and to do this we removed a whole bunch of buildings,” Collins said earlier this week. “Most of them were about the size and shape of this (homeless shelter).

“You come into Bremerton now and you have a sign that says ‘Welcome to Bremerton,’ and then you look over and the only thing you will see is a big square box.”

The first special-use application Catholic Community Services submitted to the city’s planning department was rejected because it was incomplete. Since that time, City Council member Eric Younger stirred the momentum to get a moratorium on unlisted uses and group residential facilities at the Sept. 24 council meeting.

That made Sister Pat Millen very upset because she felt that her project was being unfairly targeted through the legal department by a “not in my backyard” perception.

“It’s hard for me not to believe it is directed at the shelter project,” she said. “What we are planning to do at this point is hold a neighborhood summit Oct. 20 at the Summit Avenue Presbyterian Church.”

Millen has yet to set a time for the meeting.

So far, she has had several discussions with neighbors next to the facility, including Collins, and she is creating a frequently-asked-questions flier.

“To my experience,” she said, “a well-maintained facility increases the property values.”

Millen said there will be a rigorous screening process. Sexual offenders will not be allowed at the facility.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” regarding alcohol and drug use, she said.

Even though Millen is determined to locate the facility near the gateway project, she is willing to keep her options open.

“It’s an ideal location. But we will consider other locations? If we have to,” she said.

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