Priority: Addressing Homelessness
Homelessness impacts all of Thurston County, but it is most visible within the urban hub – downtown Olympia. In August 2018, there were approximately 30 tents in three City-owned parking lots. By November, there were more than 300.
At that time, responding to homelessness was not a City service. There were few staff dedicated to it, few resources allocated, and few options for people seeking shelter other than unsanctioned camping. While there is still much to do, we are starting to make progress in responding to this public health emergency.
Community and Council Set Priorities
In back-to-back elections, the Olympia community voted to support two City Council initiatives:
- Public Safety Levy in November 2017
- Home Fund in February 2018
Both initiatives made clear these areas were community priorities, and provided new funding to guide critical investments.
In May 2018, before the dramatic spike in visible homelessness downtown, the City Council adopted a resolution that set direction to invest in several strategies:
- Partner with the Providence Community Care Center to support successful strategies and mitigate impacts to surrounding businesses;
- Provide a safe place for people experiencing homelessness to be and have access to basic services, such as hygiene and storage;
- Establish sanctioned camping sites to serve houseless individuals from the City of Olympia; and
- Inform the public and our partners about the City’s ongoing work addressing homelessness
In July 2018, the Olympia City Council declared a public health emergency related to homelessness. Doing so formally made it possible to dedicate the resources necessary to carry out a more immediate and impactful response. Click here to view the ordinance online.
Using Data to Understand the Crisis
Each January, Thurston County conducts an Annual Point in Time (PIT) Homeless Census. More than 200 trained volunteers reach out to homeless families, youth, military veterans, seniors and persons of all ages and demographics to gather the most accurate assessment. Though challenging to get, this vital information is critical for the state to guide public funding for shelters, housing and social services throughout the county.
In 2018, the PIT census identified 835 individuals as homeless, with 320 of those living unsheltered. The most recent PIT in January 2019, identified 800 individuals as homeless, with 394 of those living unsheltered. However, it’s widely understood that because of the challenges in capturing the data, this figure largely undercounts the number of individuals believed to be experiencing homelessness in Thurston County.
Investments Address Immediate and Long-term Needs
With homelessness continuing to impact our community, and clear priorities established by our citizens and City Council, several key investments along a Housing Intervention Continuum have been made to try and provide safe options for unsheltered people, while protecting the overall health and safety of the community.
First Tiny Home Village Established
The City of Olympia is leasing property and providing funding to the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) to operate 29 tiny houses for individuals and couples without children. The facility also includes a security house, a communal kitchen, meeting space, bathrooms, showers, laundry, a case management office and 24/7 staffing.
Plum Street Village is where some of Olympia’s most vulnerable unhoused residents have a safe and secure place to live temporarily. Two LIHI staff members work with village residents daily to help them obtain employment, health care, treatment, education, and other services that will help them transition to permanent housing.
Downtown Mitigation Site Provides First Step Towards Stability
The Downtown Mitigation Site at the City-owned parking lot at Olympia and Franklin provides an orderly, safe, and clean place for individuals and couples experiencing homeless to camp. The site is hosted and staffed in partnership with the Union Gospel Mission. On average, the site provides a more stable living situation for approximately 132 individuals, many of whom are then able to connect with services and move to the next phase of transitional housing, like Plum Street Village. This model is an effective way to mitigate the negative impacts of unmanaged camping and serves as an approved location for individuals to go when unsanctioned encampments are removed.
Home Fund Established to Build More Housing
A critical part of getting people off of the street is building more housing for our lowest income neighbors. The Home Fund Levy , passed in 2017, will provide more than $2 million in new revenue each year to develop and sustain supportive and affordable housing in our community. The Home Fund will be partnering with non-profit and for-profit developers to grow more traditionally produced affordable housing units, and look for new ways to build affordable housing in Olympia.
2828 Martin Way
On June 18, 2019, the City Council awarded $1.1 million in Home Fund dollars to a partnership that is planning 60 new shelter beds and 60 new supportive housing apartments at 2828 Martin Way. That partnership is led by Interfaith Works and the Low Income Housing Institute. They will also be pursuing state Housing Trust Fund dollars and federal Low Income Housing tax credits to help fund construction. The property for this development was purchased by the Home Fund.
Interfaith Works currently operates a 42-bed shelter in the converted basement of First Christian Church downtown. It lacks showers and other basic facilities expected for the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. This project would provide 60 shelter beds. Supportive housing for single adults is a key need identified in our County’s Homeless Housing Plan. This project would provide 60 apartments providing supportive housing (a combination of housing and services that include case management and other care) on this property.