BREMERTON, Wash. - A low-barrier homeless shelter is ready to open in downtown Bremerton.
Last year, the Salvation Army shelter location at 832 6th Street was plagued by dozens of calls to 911, including one of their staff members suffering from a vicious assault.
This year, shelter officials said they plan to expand services while working with Bremerton Police to keep the peace.
Social Services Director Sheryl Piercy said she and her staff are gearing up for what could be a record number of homeless people seeking shelter in Kitsap County this winter.
“This is to give that little cushion to move them on,” she said.
Like many other cities in Western Washington, homelessness has been sharply on the rise in Bremerton.
Kitsap County officials recently counted close to 650 people experiencing homelessness, up 35 percent from 2015 to 2016. The prior year also saw a large spike - experts said the homeless population has surged 55 percent since 2014.
Those numbers, Piercy said, prove homelessness isn’t only a big-city problem. Come Dec. 19, the low-barrier shelter will welcome up to 400 new clients.
“This is our people, our community," Piercy said. "Whether you have an address or not, that doesn’t define you as part of a community.”
Low-barrier means the Salvation Army will house couples, people with families and pets and those who might be intoxicated. Last year, Piercy’s shelter had its share of problems, including dozens of calls for emergency services and a violent assault against one of its staff members.
This year, the Salvation Army is working with police to keep the peace. And the Salvation Army plans installing security cameras, hiring private security guards and extra staff to keep watch.
Piercy said she has also compiled a list of people who won’t be allowed inside the shelter because they've been known to cause trouble. That’s something police are on the watch for, too.
“The fact is, they are criminals who often are praying on the homeless and who are stealing, assaulting, and otherwise victimizing the homeless,” Bremerton police chief Steve Strachan said.
Some neighbors told Q13 News they are concerned about an influx of homeless people in the downtown core.
But Piercy said many of the county’s homeless social services are concentrated in the neighborhood – that’s why she believes the area is perfect for a low-barrier shelter.
“That’s what this was made for, and this is where we do it,” she said.