Homeless shelter for men, women, families, pets

Foes are concerned about public safety

A homeless shelter for men, women, families and pets was welcomed by some at an Open House Oct. 26 in Port Orchard, but public safety was a concern for others.

Community members got an early firsthand look of the new South Kitsap homeless shelter site at a former fitness center that is expected to open mid-2023 and will house 75 residents.

“We know there are a lot of questions about what the project is going to entail,” said Kristen Jewell, manager of Kitsap County’s housing and homeless division. “We wanted to give the community the opportunity to come and see the building in the ‘before’ phase and ask questions with the experts in the different aspects of the project. We hope people got a lot of questions answered, and we dispel some myths and misinformation and that people learned what our plans are and what the project is going to look like when it’s completed.”

An estimated 150 people attended the Open House. Upon entry, visitors were handed a self-guided tour sheet. They were directed to various stops in the building where they could see different parts of the shelter, such as a bed, the kitchen and pet area. Staff who will be screening applicants for the shelter and running the facility fielded questions. Those who will provide residents with medical, dental services and substance abuse treatment were also present. Officials responsible for reviewing permits also answered questions. Sheriff John Gese addressed public safety concerns.

Lyle Whiteley, a retired shipyard worker, who lives a block away, had been on the fence about the shelter but after talking with organizers he said he now supports it. “I was afraid it was just another thing with a bunch of men and women that can’t take care of themselves and are drunks or druggies,” Whiteley said. Learning that families will be among those served was the game changer. “It’s families that make this nation. They are going to work with these people and get them out of their rut. I think it is a very positive thing for the whole community.”

Rachel Meyers, a registered nurse who lives within two miles of the facility, believes the community needs the shelter. “I spent some time talking to Rescue Mission [staff who will run the shelter]. The big takeaway for me was, this isn’t going to be a facility where you can show up, knock on the door at 2 a.m. and say, ‘Hey I’m homeless, and I need a place to stay.’ There is a process which includes an application and a background check. People are sorted into a location that is appropriate for them. That made me feel better about this place,” Meyers said.

Maggie Brassil who lives just south of Manchester and a half-mile from the shelter, also was supportive before even attending. “I was excited to learn that guests can keep their pets with them and that families can stay together,” she said. “I also thought it was great that people do not need to line up to get in. Once you are in the shelter system you can stay for the amount of time you want to stay.”

The 20,000-square-foot shelter — now called the Pacific Building — sits on a nearly 5-acre plot at 4459 Mile Hill Drive. The facility is the first of its kind in south county and is comparable in size to the Bremerton Salvation Army shelter and the shelter program at the Quality Inn, Jewell said.

County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, who represents District 2, where the new shelter is to operate, is a proponent of the shelter. “We have quite a few people who are living outside in South Kitsap now. It would be valuable to bring them into a location where they can sleep through the night and build a plan for going forward. The Rescue Mission is going to be providing case management for each individual there, so it not only gives them a safe place to be but also helps them individually to put together their own expectations for moving forward into the future.”


Opposing the shelter is the Mile Hill Public Safety Organization, headed by president David Grout. The organization’s primary objection centers on public safety. “The normal role of the county in any proposed project is to evaluate how it fits into the community and how it maintains safety for the community,” Grout said. “I think in this situation [county officials] have gotten so far ahead of themselves that they forgot to check on the safety of the community where they are putting in the project.”

Grout said the area has two public schools and up to 2,000 kids within walking distance of the facility. “There has been no real detailed risk assessment completed for the neighboring community. They have assessed on how to operate within the facility, but they haven’t assessed potential risks to the neighbors. There has been a lot of rainbows and roses thinking kind of overlooking there could be potential problems. If you don’t identify potential risks in any project you can’t come up with any mitigation steps — how to prevent things from happening,” Grout said.

As an example of a problem that could occur Grout pointed to a fatal assault last March in the homeless shelter at a Quality Inn in Bremerton. “Either somebody didn’t assess the person’s correct mental condition and or they didn’t create sufficient rules and procedures and guidelines to prevent that tragedy from happening,” Grout said.

Jewell took issue with Grout’s comments. “I think it’s a misconception that people who are experiencing homelessness are criminals or dangerous. They are human beings just like you or me. Most people who are experiencing homeless have lost their housing because they couldn’t afford their rent anymore. Those who are homeless are more likely to be a victim of a crime than to commit a crime themselves.”

As for the assault, Jewell said: “That was very tragic, and that was a mental health issue. When we look at that situation, it wasn’t shelter specific meaning it could have happened to any two people anywhere — in a park, public place, grocery store or supermarket.”


The new homeless shelter is in the permitting phase, Jewell said. A land-use permit seeking authorization to use the former fitness center for group living has been filed. A public hearing is expected early next year.

A site development activity permit, which deals with outside improvements, such as adding wheelchair ramps and walkways, has also been submitted. The application for a building permit is being prepared.

In 2019, the county purchased the former gym for $1.5 million with local, state and federal grants. The gym was chosen because it met zoning requirements and the building was connected to sewer and came with several restrooms and showers. The building’s proximity to transportation routes and community services were other factors, planners said.