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Gimme shelter: center opens at Kitsap County Fairgrounds

Rows of beds line the inside of the weather shelter set up at the President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. - Jesse Beals/staff photos
Rows of beds line the inside of the weather shelter set up at the President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photos

County and community agencies came together this week to ensure people stay warm and toasty indoors while temperatures plummet outside.

The county Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Kitsap Community Resources (KCR) and the Kitsap County Continuum of Care Coalition opened a large severe weather shelter at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds this week.

Eleven homeless people took advantage of the President’s Hall facilities Tuesday night and DEM Spokeswoman Susan May said more and more people show up each night.

The shelter is equipped with cots, blankets, food and warm drinks for people to enjoy throughout the night while shelter volunteers keep a watchful eye over the facility.

“(The volunteers) have just been awesome,” Darlene Cook, KCR housing and community support services director, said. “Everyone has just come to the call of duty.”

The agencies first opened a few shelters in Bremerton, but later decided to close those facilities and pool their volunteers and resources together to open one large shelter at the Fairgrounds.

As of January, there were more than 700 homeless people in the county, according to Cook.

One homeless woman and her family stayed at one of the Bremerton shelters and she wrote a letter to KCR sharing her experience.

The woman, her son and sister had been living in a van with no heat, but the shelter proved to be a welcome escape from the cold weather.

“It was toasty warm,” she wrote. “We look forward to seeing the volunteer staff and sleeping in a warm and safe place. It was heaven being there.”

The severe weather shelter is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. everyday and Cook said they plan to keep it open through Tuesday or as long as the cold weather persists. Kitsap Transit is providing bus passes to those staying at the shelter so they can get to the Fairgrounds free-of-charge.

“We’ll be here for the duration, as long as we’re needed,” said Kitsap Humane Society Development Manager Dana Lerma.

The humane society set up a heated animal rescue rig outside the President’s Hall to house the pets of the homeless people staying at the shelter. The rig was a warm home to two grateful cats Wednesday night.

“It’s amazing to be able to help,” Lerma said. “I think that this is a really wonderful thing to do.”

Various local businesses and churches donated blankets, clothing, food and other items to the agencies supporting the shelter. The homeless staying at the President’s Hall take blankets and clothing for themselves to stay warm when they are not at the shelter.

“It’s just the community wanting to do what they can to help,” Cook said.

The county also is providing a car camp at an undisclosed location where homeless people living in their vehicles can safely park and spend the night.

Volunteers are still needed to maintain the severe weather shelter. Cook said the agencies want to keep the facility open 24 hours a day throughout the weekend and they need more volunteers to do that.

“We have to do what we have to do to keep these people alive,” Cook said.

For more information on volunteering, visit DEM’s Web site at www.kitsapdem.org, click on the “new volunteers” tab and then “severe weather shelter volunteers.” People also can call DEM at (360) 307-5877 or KCR at (360) 473-2047.

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