By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“For months, shelters across the country have been reporting a rise in the numbers of those seeking assistance,” said deForest Walker, co-chair of the Community Outreach Association Shelter Team, or COAST, a network of churches that co-founded the shelter with Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, in 2005.
“Depending on what kind of weather we have this winter, we could be at capacity fairly early in the season,” Walker said.
The shelter has grown since opening seven years ago, with only seven guests that year.
During the 2011-2012 season, it accommodated 97 guests.
This year, the shelter has 23 bunks available.
The shelter is located in the basement of the Marvin G. Shields American Legion Post 26 Hall, 209 Monroe St., and is operated through a partnership among COAST, OlyCAP and the American Legion Post.
This is the shelter's eighth year of operation at the corner of Monroe and Water streets.
Between Sunday and March 15, the shelter will open at 4 p.m. and close at 8 a.m. every day.
There are some exceptions: It will stay open all day Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Super Bowl Sunday.
“We've done this for a few years now, giving our guests an alcohol-free place where they can enjoy the game,” said COAST co-chair Carl Hanson.
In cases of severe weather, the shelter may also stay open all day, Hanson added.
The shelter operates on a first-come, first-served basis, with military veterans, senior citizens and those with physical disabilities receiving a preference.
The procedure also has changed: Men are asked to report to the shelter before 5 p.m., while women are required to check in for shelter at 2112 Haines St. in Port Townsend between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
No services are available to women at the American Legion site this season because of uncompleted construction and lack of adequate facilities for them.
Improvements made before this season's opening include the installation of a sprinkler system that brings the shelter up to code with the fire department.
Additionally, shelter guests will have better places to sleep.
Cots from the previous year were replaced with 23 new bunks that were built and installed in time for Sunday's opening.
Each bunk has a headboard where personal items can be placed, which will make those staying in the shelter feel more at home, said Joe Carey, commander of the post at 209 Monroe St., Port Townsend.
They also were built with recessed tops where standard institutional mattresses can fit exactly and have slats instead of plywood on the bottom to increase ventilation.
The new bunks were designed by architect Richard Berg and were built with lumber donated by Hadlock Building Supply.
Volunteers built 16 bunks over the summer, with the remainder constructed by the Port Townsend High School Shop Class, Carey said.
The shelter was improved last season with some $100,000 in renovations done by members of the American Legion Hall, COAST, OlyCAP and the Port Townsend Rotary Club.
What had started as a simple electrical system improvement to accommodate $12,000 in new kitchen appliances donated by the Port Townsend Rotary Club evolved into the full-blown remodeling project by Port Townsend's Little & Little Construction, funded through OlyCAP.
The money went to buy non-skid commercial floor mats, a $2,500 warming oven, a $3,000 commercial dishwasher and a large three-compartment sink with a heavy-duty faucet, with the remainder used for other shelter needs, said Rotary Club President Jim Maupin.
Other donations included $2,500 in materials from Henery Do it Best Hardware.
Hanson said that building a women's restroom is the next step in the shelter's renovation, with plans to accommodate both men and women at the shelter during the 2013-2014 season.
Hanson said the shelter runs on volunteer labor, with 487 people contributing their time in one way or another last season.
Hanson said more volunteers are always needed. Those wishing to participate can phone him at 360-385-1630 or 360-385-3693.
“We want to prevent unnecessary deaths on our streets due to exposure or hypothermia,” Walker said.
“We're thankful that our compassionate community supports the shelter, and the homeless folks we serve are also very grateful.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.