School district, Port set up safe parking for homeless families

Homeless families with children enrolled in South Kitsap schools should be able to park overnight soon in a lot on the Port Orchard waterfront.

The Port of Bremerton is partnering with South Kitsap School District to allow families and teenagers who live in their cars a place to park and sleep overnight, port CEO Tim Thomson said.

“We all should do what we can to show some support to people who are in a less fortunate position,” Thomson said. “Here we have an opportunity to help some people.”

The lot, which is across the street from City Hall and the Port Orchard Police Department, is leased by the port from the city. It will have several spaces available for families who obtain a special parking permit through the school district.

Port Orchard police Chief Al Townsend said the idea, spearheaded by local homeless advocate Sally Santana, was easy to get behind.

The lot will be open for families and students from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. The port will keep the public restrooms at the boat launch open overnight. Private security officers who work for the port will monitor the lot.

Dave Colombini, the school district’s director of school and family support, said families will be require to get a permit issued by SKSD to park overnight. The language of the permits is still being drafted, but if all goes to plan, the lot should be open to families soon.

“Once we’ve got this permit thing figured out we’ll be ready to go,” he said. “Hopefully that happens in the next week or so.”

The Water Street lot was chosen because of its proximity to the police department. The safety of the families was a priority when choosing a location, Colombini said.

“A lot of times homeless people are scared of their situation,” he said. “We want them to feel like they can go in to this parking lot and be safe, both from people trying to harm them and to know they don’t have to worry about parking in an illegal place.”

Colombini didn’t know how many families might use the lot. It’s hard to get an accurate estimate on the number of SKSD students who are homeless, he said, because families don’t typically want to share that information.

The number of requests for special transportation under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act — which mandates that school districts provide transportation to homeless students who move outside their district — has risen to about 12 students in South Kitsap, Colombini said.

SKSD is the first district in the area to implement an overnight parking lot like this for homeless families, he said. The district will issue permits as administrators become aware of families who need a safe place to park. Often, he said, district officials find out about families who are homeless through the students themselves.

“It’s only through our relationships we have with the kids,” Colombini said. “And really for every 20 kids who we know are homeless, we have double that amount in reality.”

Santana called SKSD “innovative and forward thinking” in their effort to provide a safe area for homeless families to park their cars.

“They understand that this is a piece of the puzzle to help homeless families,” she said.

Santana is a member of the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition, a group of about 40 organizations striving to address the issues of homelessness in Kitsap County. She led the push to get the space for families close to the police department.

Like Colombini, she agrees that a safe place to park was paramount for kids, who along with everything else they face in a homeless situation, have to worry about test scores and homework.

“People frequently forget that in a case with a family, they are scared of people coming against them,” she said. “Every person wants safety and security for their families.”

Many homeless park far out of the way of the city center, she said. She sees the step of acknowledging homeless families with children in the school district as a step in the right direction.

“They won’t have to hide, they won’t have to be afraid,” she said.

Townsend welcomes the use of the lot across from City Hall and doesn’t think it will cause any problems. However, he finds it hard to believe that it will be utilized because of its location.

“I’m not convinced people will be parking on one of the busier streets and broadcasting they are homeless,” he said.

He does have some concerns, including blocking parking spaces for boaters come summertime, and wonders if a private, out-of-the-way location would be a better solution in the long run.

“I’m hoping for something different long-term,” he said. “A different location where people (using the lot) could be more comfortable.”

Regardless of the location, all parties seem to agree that a space for homeless families with students in SKSD is important. Colombini is excited to get the project going, and to give some struggling people a little peace of mind.

“We hope this is something that works out and helps people in need,” he said.




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