A longtime advocate for homeless people in Kitsap County has died.
Sally Santana of Port Orchard passed away Sept. 2 of organ failure, the Kitsap Sun reported. She was 58.
Members of the social services community described Santana as a passionate activist and writer who challenged the status quo and insisted that solutions to social problems could be found.
“She spoke from such a place of authenticity, people respected her,” said Monica Bernhard of Housing Solutions Center of Kitsap County. “They knew she didn’t have anything to gain from what she was doing. It was not her job. It was just a passion to serve.”
Santana was known for a column on spirituality she wrote for The Kitsap Sun, but she also walked the talk, becoming a fixture on the social services scene. In 2007, when she experienced unstable housing, Santana contacted the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition, where Terry Schroeder had just become coordinator.
“I didn’t have anything that I could do for her, and she wasn’t asking me to do something,” Schroeder said. “She was like, ‘How can this happen, how can somebody become homeless?’”
Always pressing for answers, Santana soon wanted to know why there was no place for homeless people to sleep inside during Kitsap’s cold, wet winters. At her urging, the Continuum of Care formed a committee to explore a severe weather shelter, Schroeder said. To prepare for committee meetings, Santana spent hours on her computer, researching best practices. She presented ideas gleaned from other cities.
Late in 2008, Continuum of Care created the county’s only severe weather shelter. Only one person showed up the first night.
Undeterred, Santana contacted Kitsap Transit, and the agency began to advertise that the severe-weather shelter was open by including a message on buses’ lighted route signs.
As many as 22 people per night now use the severe weather shelter — help that Schroeder says wouldn’t exist if Santana hadn’t insisted on it.
“She made us get the severe weather shelter going,” Schroeder said. “She pushed for that kind of thing.”
Santana also arranged events to raise awareness about hunger, printed a resource guide for social service agencies to distribute, and organized well-attended workshops and meetings that brought elected officials and homeless people together. She was willing to look beyond the obvious to find solutions, and when one idea didn’t work out, she quickly came up with more.
Santana researched tent camps as an option for homeless people, but ended up working with the Salvation Army to set up an indoor tent camp for couples and families.
“She influenced a lot of changes in Kitsap County,” said Darlene Norris-Cook of Kitsap Community Resources.
For example, Santana encouraged faith organizations, nonprofits and city government officials to collaborate.
“It didn’t matter to her who she was talking to. It was, ‘Well, why does it have to be that way?’” said Norris-Cook.
A single mother, Santana experienced homelessness as a child, a background that informed her advocacy.
“She shared the things that she remembered, the things her family struggled with while she was homeless,” Norris-Cook said. “She really helped paint that picture of better ways to serve people.”
The Kitsap Sun and Kitsap Credit Union gave Santana the Healthy Tomorrow award for her efforts on behalf of underprivileged people. In 2010 she received a C. Keith Birkenfeld Humanitarian Award, which included $25,000 that Santana turned over to a group for students in need at Olympic College in Bremerton.
Santana is survived by her son, Gabe.
Community members are planning to hold a memorial for Santana, but a date and time have not been set.