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Public Notices

Posted on: December 29, 2023

Message from Mayor Wheeler

On January 17, the City Council will consider my proposal to construct a low-barrier, walk-up homeless shelter on an enclosed campus off Kitsap Way that will operate year-round. I have two goals that will be achieved with my proposal; first, to provide our homeless community members with a safe, warm, dry and comfortable place to stay out of the elements, and second, to ensure that the unrestricted camping that occurred in our neighborhoods this past summer never happens again. To be clear, our laws that restrict camping in the City can only be enforced when there is sufficient shelter space available for those who request it, and my proposal for a low-barrier, walk-up shelter is the only option currently being considered that will provide that. 

After my proposal was initially presented to the City Council in October, two nonprofits and a public agency jointly submitted a proposal to the City Council for Pallet transitional housing and other spaces at two different locations. Their approach, while a valuable part of a holistic vision for responding to homelessness, will not address illegal camping in Bremerton’s neighborhoods since Pallet homes will fill quickly, and there will not be sufficient shelter for those who request it. Again, if shelter space is not available for those who seek it, the City cannot enforce its laws that preclude camping, and homeless people will again be allowed to establish encampments throughout the City.

I encourage you to attend both the Study Session on January 10, and the City Council meeting on January 17 where my proposal, and also likely the alternative proposal will be considered by the City Council. Homelessness is a complex issue that will not be solved anytime soon; however, I firmly believe that my proposal delivers a balanced, compassionate path forward to provide a safe place for vulnerable people seeking shelter from the elements, while simultaneously allowing the City to enforce our laws and protect our neighborhoods. Please see my letter below that provides additional detail on why I believe my proposal is the only option currently identified that will effectively address the impacts of homelessness on our City.

Letter from Mayor Wheeler: Two Proposals to Address Homelessness Going to City Council; Council Will Decide Which Option to Choose on January 17

A very important policy decision is being made by the City Council next month on January 17 about how to best address homelessness, and this decision will greatly impact Bremerton. On the surface, the Council will be deciding between two options to address homelessness, and while these options may seem comparable, they are not. The policy implications, and ultimate ability of the City to enforce its laws, will be very different depending on which option Council chooses.  

The Two Proposals: A Brief Summary

  1. City of Bremerton’s Proposal - I have made a proposal to the City Council to construct an enclosed campus for a 100-person capacity, low-barrier walk-up congregate shelter (Sprung structure) to be located off Kitsap Way, on property owned by the City. The property this facility will be constructed on was purchased for Public Works purposes, and since the shelter is not intended to be permanent, both the site grading and proposed Sprung structure are forward-compatible with that long-term use. You can learn more about my proposal at the City’s Public Works & Utilities Department Project Website
  2. Non-profits & Public Agency Proposal - A proposal by the leaders of the Bremerton Housing Authority, St. Vincent de Paul, and Kitsap Community Resources was presented to the City Council to construct a combination of transitional housing and congregate shelter space at two locations. One site is off Wheaton Way at Mills Crossing that consists of 40 Pallet structures for transitional housing and a 20-person capacity congregate shelter, and another 40 Pallet structures of transitional housing at another location. You can learn about this proposal by looking at pages 706 – 712 of the December 13th City Council Study Session meeting packet. Note that the Wheaton Way location was not identified in the proposal but was forwarded to City and County leaders separately.

Key Considerations in Evaluating these Two Options Include:

Homelessness is a complex issue with many causes. The City of Bremerton is already supporting many efforts aimed at helping people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. You can read about some of them in the Mayor’s 2023 Initiatives and my Affordable Housing Initiatives for 2023. However, homelessness impacts the entire community, not just the people who are experiencing homelessness. There is a criminal element that thrives in homeless encampments, negatively impacting neighborhoods, business districts and vulnerable populations. This drains City resources and degrades City amenities and public spaces. The Salvation Army has reported that many people who use their walk-up, low-barrier shelter are eager to be out of the elements and away from the criminals who prey upon them. 

There is an unauthorized camping ordinance -- but it is not enforceable in the City when there is a lack of available shelter. The City Council passed an ordinance this September that made camping on public property in the City illegal, but suspended enforcement of the ordinance when there is no overnight shelter space available (Bremerton Municipal Code 9.32 Unauthorized Camping). There was record setting public input when this ordinance was discussed, and the community consensus was clear - Bremertonians do not want unregulated encampments anywhere in the City.

A timeline on the development of the City Council’s unauthorized camping ordinance and the efforts of my administration to enforce the ordinance is available for download here

No year-round, low-barrier walk-up shelter currently exists to fill the gap in our City. 

  • A walk-up low-barrier shelter provides a safe, dry, and climate-controlled place for people to go, and has a proven record of providing needed available shelter space.  
  • The Salvation Army is the only walk-up low-barrier shelter in Bremerton, and it is only open 5-6 months each year. This means the City’s no-camping ordinance can only be enforced 5-6 months a year.  
  • The Salvation Army was never designed to primarily function as a shelter. When operating as a shelter, furniture is moved aside, and people sleep on mats on the floor in hallways, offices, common areas, and other available space.
  • Since re-opening its shelter on November 1, the Salvation Army has housed an average of 60 people each night, with a high of 77 people. Note that a 100-person capacity shelter would meet this existing need year-round, with additional capacity.

A year-round, low-barrier walk-up shelter fills a need for individuals and families.

  • My proposal for Sprung shelters provides flexible interior space that can be modified depending on the need. As an example, separate space for families and other more vulnerable users may be accommodated through thoughtful design. Sleeping areas may include barracks-style bunks as well as spaces that provide more privacy. The shelter can also include office space for wrap around services by non-profits and other service providers. The design for my proposal will be developed by a professional with shelter design experience, in consultation with input from shelter operators and people with experience living in shelters.

Pallet transitional housing tends to fill 'within days of opening’ 

The second option being proposed is for pallet transitional housing and has been submitted by the leaders of the Bremerton Housing Authority, St. Vincent de Paul, and Kitsap Community Resources, which will be considered by City Council on January 17. 

The Pallet structure proposal presented in the December 13, 2023 City Council packet will likely be filled immediately leaving Bremerton with no overnight shelter available. 

City Council Will Decide on Which Option to Choose on January 17

On January 17, the Council will decide whether the City should choose: (1) to adopt my shelter proposal and protect the City’s neighborhoods, business districts and vulnerable population from the impacts of unauthorized camping while providing our homeless community members a safe, warm and dry place to walk up and stay overnight, or (2) the Pallet structures option which prioritizes “longer term transitional living1” and “…assisting residents, all residents, of Kitsap County.2”  

My obligation as Mayor is to serve Bremerton. I am asking the Council to approve my proposal for a shelter option because it is the best option for Bremerton

The City’s Charter at Article IV, Section 19 states the Mayor “(s)hall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order are maintained in the City.” I heard loud and clear in the unprecedented amount of public input received just a few months ago that the people of Bremerton expect the Unauthorized Camping ordinance to be enforced. I cannot enforce the City’s prohibition on public camping unless there is shelter space available. My proposal is the only option that effectively addresses the impacts of homelessness on our City; both for the benefit of the most vulnerable in our community, as well as for our neighborhoods and business districts.

To find details on the upcoming City Council Study Session on January 10 and public meeting on January 17, please look for information to be posted a few days before each meeting here: https://www.bremertonwa.gov/691/Council-Meetings.

Council Study Session Packet December 13, 2023, page 708 
2 Council Study Session Packet December 13, 2023, page 706

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