Island, county agencies work to prevent homelessness

Island organizations are pooling their resources to keep people in their homes as the number of homeless grows across Kitsap County.

Agencies are receiving a soaring number of requests while local governments, including the City of Bainbridge Island, are cutting back on funding streams.

Social service organizations say programs such as rental assistance and homeless prevention target a sore need in the Bainbridge community. Yet, they are expensive to fund and hard times have shrunk budgets.

In order to address the situation, the Bainbridge Island Rotary Club and Helpline House are partnering to look for grant funding to continue to provide assistance to families trying to keep a roof over their heads.

The Housing Resources Board, the island’s affordable-housing nonprofit organization, has received 57 calls so far in the fourth quarter of 2010, and 32 of those calls are from people who said they are already homeless.

According to the Kitsap County Health District, there are approximately 50 people surviving on basic food assistance (food stamps), and Helpline House is seeing about 30 to 35 new people every month who need some form of assistance.

Previously, the city often picked up the slack, but the council cut the city’s 2011 budget drastically in order to deal with its own financial problems.

The city cut the Health, Housing and Human Service (HHHS) Council budget by about 25 percent for 2011, and the Bainbridge Committee disbanded after 62 years of giving between $15,000 to $17,000 annually in one-time emergency aid and other services. Helpline House officials estimated they will lose about $25,000 worth of client support in 2011.

The island’s Rotary Club, in conjunction with Rotary International District 5020, announced in November that it has partnered with the Gates Foundation to provide up to $200,000 to local organizations working to end family homelessness. Rotary District 5020, which includes Bainbridge, will use a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to match local contributions from Rotarians.

“One of the things we found in our Bainbridge community is that it’s far better to prevent homelessness,” said Joanne Ellis, spokesperson from the Bainbridge rotary. “It takes fewer dollars and energy if we can keep people in their homes by identifying people at risk and helping when a family comes up short for their mortgage. Helpline House helps folks stay in their homes and keeps families together and secure.”

In order to keep up with the need, Helpline is hoping donations and outside grants will supplement where funding has elsewhere been cut.

“The need to keep people from becoming homeless has absolutely increased since the recession,” said Murray Prins, supervisor of social work at Helpline House. “If islanders come to us and they were sick and missed a week of work and are coming up short, we have had the capacity to help them stay in their home and stabilize the crisis. Those monies go fast. Just to help one family we can easily spend $600 or $700 in one month. If you help 10 families in one month, that money goes out the door quick.”

Prins estimated that Helpline House will receive about $18,000 in funding from the city and the Housing Resources Board for 2011. A grant from the Gates Foundation through the Bainbridge Rotary would be considerable help, Prins said.

Each individual rotary club can apply for grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 in matching funds.


County takes emergency measures as homeless numbers increase

Kitsap County organizations are still trying to grapple with the limited availability of affordable housing and resources for the growing need.

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners passed an emergency ordinance on Dec. 13 to allow for temporary housing for the homeless. On the table are two proposals from the Bremerton Salvation Army to house temporary tent encampments for homeless.

Representatives from the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition requested the Bainbridge City Council to enact an ordinance and permitting process for sanctioned tent encampments by churches, nonprofits or property owners.

Countywide there are only 25 beds for single homeless men and only 18 for single homeless women; there are more than 2,000 homeless in Kitsap County right now and more than 500 of them are children, according to the Bremerton Rescue Mission.

Tent villages have sprouted up around the country to give homeless a safe place with access to water and garbage disposal.

In Kitsap County, homeless people have already established tent settlements in the woods and health authorities have been complaining about conditions in one such encampment.

By providing a temporary location, that rotates approximately every three months, homeless can have one place to call home while they try and get back on their feet.

A community called Camp Quixote in Olympia has existed for three years and just finished its 14th move to a different church property in October.

It provides a varied length of stay for 25-30 campers who are self-governed and follow strict rules.

The camp has been successful, and Kitsap County officials hope to enact a similarly structured facility.

-Jessica Hoch

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