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Homeless advocacy group forms in Kingston
KINGSTON — The number of homeless people in Kingston, and Kitsap County for that matter, is difficult to track down.
“Even people who are real pros and work directly in that area … Counting at any time is a nebulous area,” ShareNet Executive Director Mark Ince said.
About 3 percent of ShareNet’s clients are self-identified as homeless, Ince said. ShareNet is a nonprofit in Kingston that provides food and other services to low-income people. Ince believes there are more people in the north end of the county who do not want to be identified as homeless.
According to the 2012 Point In Time Homeless County, there are more than 500 homeless people either living outside, in vehicles, shelters, transitional housing, or with friends and family.
Though there may not be a solid number of homeless people, the concern over homeless in Kingston has grown enough for some Kingstonites to take action.
“We don’t know what the extent of the problem is,” Kingston Kiwanis member MaryAnn Harris said.
So, the first step to be taken by Kingston Cares About Homelessness — a name that may still be in the works — is to create a severe weather shelter. A shelter will give those considered homeless a place to stay during cold, stormy weather. It could also give an idea as to how many homeless people there are in the north end.
The weather shelter will be housed in Bayside Community Church, according to multiple sources. The shelter will be officially designated by the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management once certain steps are taken.
Before the shelter can open, volunteers must undergo training and background checks by the county, according to Jason McMillan, a department program specialist.
Kingston Cares needed a minimum of 10 volunteers before the county would provide training. The group has at least 10 willing people and is working to schedule the training, said Jane Mack, a group member. The group is always looking for volunteers, Mack said.
The group is composed of members of an assortment of other organizations, including the Kingston Citizens Advisory Council, Bayside Community Church, Kingston-North Kitsap Rotary, Greater Kingston Kiwanis, Kingston Chamber of Commerce, and Kingston Financial Center. Kirsten Jewell, who works for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council as a housing grant program manager, has been “a guiding force” for the group, Mack said.
The only severe weather shelter overseen by the county is in Bremerton. Shelters in Poulsbo and South Kitsap closed because of lack of use, McMillan said. The Bremerton shelter has been open for five years. The most difficult aspect of a shelter is getting the word out so people know to use it, McMillan said.
In an effort to raise awareness of the shelter — once it is running — and other programs, Kingston Cares is planning to build bulletin boards near the skatepark and Village Green Park to post community service events.
The Kingston Food Bank, another nonprofit that focuses its efforts on low-income Kingston residents near downtown, has five clients considered homeless, said director Barb Fulton. Of those, their ages are 18 and older, she said. The oldest homeless person in Kingston the food bank serves is in his early 50s, she said.
“It’s a thing we really need to address,” Fulton said. Some homeless people may not identify themselves because they are “embarrassed,” she said.
The group has other long-term goals as well, including building a homeless shelter. But that’s in the future.
“You can’t solve the problem all at one time,” Harris said. “Doesn’t mean we are going to stop there. If we can get the kids so they are warm … that will be a start.”
The group met Jan. 9; dates of future meetings will be published in the Herald.