Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Unhealthy Air Quality in South Puget Sound

Above: In a photo taken from Madison Scenic Park, the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia is barely visible through the smoke Wednesday morning. 
Unhealthy air quality throughout South Puget Sound is making many people feel dizzy, head-achy, and short of breath this week. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Dizzy and head-achy? If you woke up Tuesday morning in South Sound feeling like you were experiencing a lingering weekend hangover, you were not alone. 

For many, those symptoms, along with a shortness of breath, were related to poor air quality. The conditions that adversely affect public health continued on Wednesday.

According to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA), which serves Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties, air quality reached unhealthy levels due to wildfire smoke around the state and Canada.

ORCAA monitors air quality stations in Aberdeen, Cheeka Peak in Clallam County, Lacey, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Shelton, South Bend and Yelm.

At 11:00 a.m., the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) level reached 191 in Lacey. According to a chart legend, a range of 151 – 200 is considered unhealthy. A range between 201 -300 is considered very unhealthy.  

Yelm registered a level of 44, within the “good” air quality range of 0-50.

By 4:00 p.m., the WAQA reading for Lacey was 155.

The Washington State Department of Ecology created the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) information tool to advise the public about air quality levels. It advises the public on measurements of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution and fine particles and sulfur dioxide.

The data is collected and reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The WAQA bases its advice about air quality on lower levels of fine particles than the Environmental Protection Agency's national information tool, the Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories ranging from good to hazardous.

Studies show that certain levels of particles such as smoke and dust in the air can cause illness and death.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Just Housing, Homeless Camp Residents Organize

Above: Michelle, a former medical assistant, lives at the Nickerson encampment for the houseless off Eastside Street in Olympia. She has gastroparesis, a digestive system disorder, and other chronic illnesses. 

By Invitation, Little Hollywood Visits Nickerson Camp

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“I had two closets full of shoes!” Michelle laughed, but then paused. “It almost makes me want to cry,” she added.

Michelle, a former medical assistant, has lived at the Nickerson homeless encampment, a wooded, 2.5-acre property located on Wheeler Avenue off Eastside Street in Olympia, for about three months.

She has always worked, and is waiting for her Social Security disability benefits to start.

From Pierce County, Michelle became homeless after a divorce, but says she is healthier now in spirit than she was while married.

Her decline into chronic illness began after colon surgery in August, 2014. She has gastroparesis, a digestive disorder in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion.

Then she suffered her first heart attack in July, 2015.

She needs regular colostomy supplies but has no address for them to be delivered. Instead, she uses sanitary pads as a heavy duty, makeshift bandage for her stomach so she doesn’t soil herself. She is in pain, which perpetuates vomiting.

“I’m used to being the one who takes care of others, but I’m resourceful,” she says. “I grew up on a farm in Lewis County.” 

Michelle is just one of nine residents at the Nickerson Camp who has a story, illustrating how easy it is to slip into a life of homelessness and lose access to the everyday conveniences of modern life.

Above: A meal of ravioli at the Nickerson Camp.

Nickerson Camp History

The city recently bought the Nickerson encampment area for use as a future park.

Camp residents were served a 72 hour notice of eviction on July 12. The area has been a homeless encampment for many years, but this was the first time this specific property had been served with such a notice.

Last month, Olympia city council members put off the eviction until further notice.

It was the same evening the council declared homelessness a public health emergency and the optics didn’t look good to take action on both actions on the same night.

Then, on July 24, the city announced the proposed locations of two city sanctioned sites for the homeless. A council finance committee met July 31 to discuss financing options for those sites and other homeless response efforts.

Councilmembers will hold a study session on August 21 to discuss those financing options, which include current operating and capital budget monies, and the possible use of Home Fund sales tax dollars, parks funds, and emergency reserves from the city’s operating budget.

City manager Steve Hall says the Nickerson site is not an ideal site for a permanent camp due to the environmental sensitivity of the area. In reality, hundreds of Olympia residents are living in wooded areas around Thurston County and all of them are environmentally sensitive.

Residents of the Nickerson Camp are interested in being part of the solution.

Prior to the eviction notice being served, they had collected numerous bags of trash to take off the property. The bags have been removed by members of Just Housing, an all volunteer advocacy organization, without the assistance of the city. 

With boots-on-the-ground, the group works directly with the homeless on daily and long-term solutions to local homelessness issues and urges councilmembers to adopt realistic, cost-effective approaches to managing the city’s unhoused residents.

Above: Tye Gundel of Just Housing takes a call while sitting at the Woodland Trail trailhead near the Nickerson Camp. 

Tye Gundel of Just Housing visits the Nickerson camp and other homeless encampments several times a week. She not only listens to residents, she washes their laundry at laundromats, brings needed supplies, and facilitates communication among residents, councilmembers, the faith community, and other community social service providers.

“City staff and councilmembers are gradually taking steps to embrace some of our ideas,” Gundel said diplomatically this week.

Gundel has suggested numerous goals, policies and procedures regarding local homelessness since the group started its work advocating for open 24/7 restrooms in November 2016.

Recently, the group created several half-inch binders, one for each city councilmember and some for staff, chock full of solid local research and practical strategies. Gundel gave them to councilmembers prior to their July 24 study session on homelessness.

For example, Just Housing provides suggestions for regulating camping rather than imposing an outright ban.

One approach includes a “shelter-in-place” plan to working with existing encampments, in addition to the creation of alternative legal and safe encampments, like the two recently proposed emergency housing locations.

People will camp even if it is banned, because some people have no other choice, says Gundel.

The study session fell flat, as Just Housing and other community social service providers were not offered a seat at the table and the material did not appear to be used.

Now, as the days inch toward cold weather months, councilmembers are increasingly interested in making sure community partners and social service providers are included in future conversations.

In the meantime, Gundel will continue her efforts.

“I have had some great meetings with folks about structure and organizing the camp. 
We are also continuing to look for a partner for a camp. So far, two churches are interested. Our next step is to arrange a meeting with some representatives from the churches, the city, the camp, and some of our folks to go through more of the details of how we should move forward,” said Gundel this week.

Nickerson Camp Residents Speak to Little Hollywood

Above: Micky Nelson, 34, a resident of the Nickerson Camp, has twice addressed Olympia city council members during public comment time, and has ideas for organizing the camp.

Little Hollywood visited the Nickerson Camp property, by invitation, with Gundel in late July and last week.

Many residents of homeless encampments do not want to or cannot live in an enclosed shelter or camp-like environment.

Mickey Nelson, 34, moved from Texas to Washington State in 2009. He and his girlfriend, Jackie Taylor, 39, have lived at the Nickerson Camp since January, making them the longest, consecutive resident campers on the property.

Nelson is a jack-of-all-trades and has worked in construction, remodeling, steel fabrication, welding, auto body, detailing, lawn care, dog services, and cook.

Nelson has back issues which began with a motorcycle accident, then a car accident, in which he was a passenger, three months later. He is on state disability and is reapplying for Social Security. He says he has a long standing mental health history and is a participant of Capital Recovery Center programs. 

Capital Recovery Center is a community nonprofit, peer-supported agency that has special programs such as Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH), a point of contact for adults experiencing homelessness who also suffer from mental illness.

Nelson says the camp is on good terms with its housed neighbors, and one neighbor brought them trash bags. He credits Taylor for cleaning up the camp, almost single-handedly. Trash is gradually taken off the property by individuals with Just Housing, without the assistance of the city.

“Evicting us off the property would push us back into downtown, or on other city property,” he said. “Since we have been here, foot traffic and noise has gone down. It’s a safe place for the sick, youth, pregnant women, and domestic violence victims.

“We are looking to be a camp that has a positive impact on society. Not all of us have the desire to live indoors because we’ve been homeless for so long. We have to do the best we can with the best we have.”

Nelson hopes to start a nonprofit whose mission it would be to purchase property for homeless people to camp on and use as a safe place.

He is co-director of InReach, an organization organized by the homeless community. In collaboration with James Joy of The Jungle, Olympia’s largest homeless encampment of about 200 residents, Nelson is creating a practical survival guide for the houseless. The guide would be updated every six months.

“I’ve done so many bad things in my life as a kid. Doing this is my way of atoning for the people I can’t ask forgiveness from, for whatever reason. I’m making it up to the universe,” he said. Nelson has an eight year old son and a 21 year old cousin living elsewhere.

“I want this world to be better than mine was,” he said.

Jackie Taylor, sitting nearby, was born and raised in Olympia, and patiently waited to tell her story. 

To relieve her stress and anxiety, she likes to bicycle at night.

“I don’t do daytime. I can’t be around traffic and people,” she says.

She says the state department of social and health services provides outdated information, such as telling women who are homeless to go to Bread and Roses, a former shelter for women that has been closed for years.

It is her goal to create a donation supply drop off center at the Nickerson Camp, similar to the one at The Jungle.

She also wants a more organized camp. All the area camps are currently self-managed through peer-support but Taylor wants the city’s support in establishing a resident list and process for approving people as new residents.

Taylor brainstormed a Nickerson resident code of conduct and her wish list for the camp: it must be clean and sober, no theft, no bullying, and no violence. She would appreciate it if the city would provide the camp a small dumpster and a porta-potty with a sink.

“This is my safe haven – a small community where people follow the rules and help out. I don’t want the city to spend a lot of money,” said Taylor.

Taylor says the Just Housing organization has been supportive of their work. “You couldn’t ask for anyone better,” she said.

Little Hollywood often writes about homelessness issues, and unsheltered, street dependent individuals. For more information about these issues, go to Little Hollywood and use the search button to type in key words.

Independent, local journalism takes time. If you appreciate community journalism and photojournalism, please consider a donation to Little Hollywood. A PayPal donation link is located on the sidebar of Little Hollywoods main page at Other ways to donate are also available. Thank you!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Olympia To Consider Spooner Berry Farm Land Purchase

Above: Mona Michaelis of Spooner Berry Farms was doing brisk business at the farm stand on Yelm Highway Friday afternoon. The Olympia city council will consider the purchase of the 83-acre parcel on Yelm Highway for a future community park.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was just a matter of time.

The Olympia City Council will consider the purchase of an 83-acre parcel, home of Spooner Berry Farms at 3323 Yelm Highway SE., at its regular meeting August 21.

The cost of the property will be $10.7 million.

The fact that the city has had its eye on the farmland for future public use as a community park has perhaps been one of the city’s worst kept secrets.

In a 2014 city assessment of undeveloped land within the city’s urban growth area, the Yelm Highway parcel stood out.

City negotiations with property owner Jim Zahn have been underway for several months.

For years, the Zahn family has leased the property to Spooner Berry Farms, who uses it for a U-Pick strawberry farm and berry stand.

Spooner’s operates multiple berry farms in the area, but as the county's population increases, acreage for farmland in Thurston County decreases.

The county has lost over 75 percent of its working agricultural lands since the mid-1950s, when Thurston County was primarily farmland. 

According to a 2015 study by the Thurston County Planning Council, 6,500 acres of farmland has been lost to development since 2000 and 22,600 acres are at risk of being lost to development.

The average age of a farmer in Thurston County is 58.9 years old and seventy percent of farmland is expected to change ownership in the next 20 years.

There are no immediate plans for the proposed future park.

Above: The 83 acre farmland on Yelm Highway in Olympia.

Future Park

The community identified the acquisition of a large, community park site for soccer fields as a high priority in the 2010 and 2016 Parks, Arts and Recreation Plans, said a city press release.

In 2004, the community voted for a parks and sidewalks funding measure that included parks acquisition. The proposed purchase moves the city closer to the goal stated in that measure of increasing the city park system by 500 acres.

If the Zahn property is acquired, the city will have acquired 440 acres since 2004.

The city says a parcel the size of the Yelm Highway site could accommodate several full-size soccer fields and associated support facilities. It could also accommodate additional community park amenities, from community gardens and trails to sports fields and courts.

The city would begin a planning process in 2019 and seek the community’s input as part of the process.  Park development would likely be done in phases, with the first phase tentatively scheduled for 2024.

The city says it is interested in developing a relationship with Spooner Berry Farms and would continue to lease to the business prior to park development.

Mona Michaelis, a lead employee at Spooner Berry Farms, has worked for the Spooner family for 16 years and hopes the news doesn’t hurt business. 

As customers jumped out of their cars and got in line at the farm stand, she said, We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We have two weeks left for the blueberries and one week left for marionberries!” 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Funding the Cost of Olympia Homelessness

Above: Time is running out as the City of Olympia works to address homelessness crisis options before the cold weather season approaches. The clock, along with other debris, was recently collected and placed in trash bags at the Nickerson homeless encampment off Eastside Street in Olympia.

Total 2017 amount spent for encampment cleanup expenses is nearly $103,000

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“We may all need to compromise,” said Olympia city councilmember Jim Cooper, who serves as chair of the council's finance committee.

Cooper was speaking of funding options for homeless response efforts and two proposed city sanctioned encampments at a four-hour city finance committee meeting held July 31.

The committee is comprised of councilmembers Cooper, Lisa Parshley and Jessica Bateman.

As Cooper has said in the past, city funding to address the homeless crisis is a new line of business for the council, and all options need to be considered.

The city estimates that $1.4 million will be needed annually to operate two city sanctioned homeless encampments. The two locations, one on Union Avenue near Plum Street and the other on Martin Way, will assist 80 people total. 

An estimated $1.1 million total is needed for site improvements to both locations.

City staff has also proposed to direct $500,000 annually to other homeless response efforts. This amount could support other agencies that host campsites under the citys proposed emergency housing ordinance for services such as garbage service and porta-potties. 

The need for safe storage has also been identified as a critical service so people experiencing homelessness have a place to store their belongings.

At the meeting, Cooper suggested using Home Fund money, a business and operations tax that has not been adjusted since the 1950s, dipping into parks funds, and using $500,000 to $1,000,000 per year of general fund emergency reserves for no more than five years.

And while he said he doesn’t want to raise taxes, he is open to using some of the non-voted utility tax, if that tax is extended an additional three years.

“The cost to parks and other agencies from this crisis is much higher (than past years). In fact, the cost to every department to deal with this crisis is at some level part of (staff’s) job…I believe a short extension on (parks) acquisition won’t hurt our city long term but it will help us relieve pressure on our park system,” he said.

One example of these higher costs is for homeless encampment clean-ups.

According to the city community planning and development figures, the cumulative expenditures incurred by city park rangers for homeless encampment clean-up at 24 citywide locations in 2017 totaled $13,820.46.

Other clean-up efforts were contracted out for cleaning up under bridges, drop box hauling, advanced environmental hauling, resulting in a total 2017 amount spent for encampment cleanup expenses of $102,991.04.

Councilmember Bateman expressed interest in using capital funds as long as there is a clear plan that includes transitioning a temporary shelter to long-term supportive housing.

She stated that she doesn’t want to touch general fund reserves because those are for emergencies, however, the homelessness crisis is an emergency, so use of those funds in that capacity seemed appropriate.

Councilmember Parshley wants to see a defined repayment plan if reserves are used.

Parshley also sought clarification on whether she needed to recuse herself because she has a veterinary business near the proposed homeless encampment on Union Avenue. She was told by city legal counsel that she can participate in the discussion but can recuse herself when it comes time to a final vote on the issue.

In his support for using funds from the new Home Fund sales tax for permanent supportive housing, Cooper said, “I really, truly believe that conditions on the ground have changed since we asked the voters to approve the Home Fund. They were changing in that time and we couldn’t articulate it as clearly as we can today.”

“Where we’re going to get the money from is premature if we don’t know how much it’s going to cost…. What we don’t want to do is provide for a plan for homeless encampments and not achieve the objectives we set out to achieve. We want to make sure…we’re on the right track,” said Bateman.

Bateman and Parshley questioned the site review, design and engineering costs for the two sites.

Cooper suggested putting two social service providers and a one or two people who are homeless on the city’s formal design team for operations and maintenance.

Staff appeared to agree, with city manager Steve Hall saying, “Nothing has been figured out.” 

That includes how it is determined who gets to stay in the encampments, which the city is calling “The Villages.” 

Bateman urged that the standard vulnerability index be used, as it is required for federal funding and considered a “best practice.”

Cooper said he understood that, but also believes in “best or better practices,” and wants to also look at other criteria for admission.

The full council will hold another study session on funding options to address the homelessness crisis on Tuesday, August 21, 5:30 p.m., Olympia City Hall.

Emergency Reserves

Debbie Sullivan, city administrative services director, told Little Hollywood this week that the city must keep a minimum of 10 percent of its general operating revenue in reserves.

The city currently has $7.8 million in its reserves, she said.

Reserves are important to financial advisers and determine the city’s credit rating, which affects its ability and cost to borrow money. If emergency reserves are used, they must be paid back with 2.3 percent interest.

“We are very, very, cautious about using our emergency reserves. If an emergency is declared, such as in the event of an earthquake, we have to access those reserves,” Sullivan said.

Little Hollywood often writes about homelessness issues, and unsheltered, street dependent individuals. For more information about these issues, the Home Fund, and the city’s recent purchase of property for housing the homeless, go to Little Hollywood  at and use the search button to type in keywords.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

New Hope for Former Olympia Temple

Above: New Hope Anglican Church has found a new home at 802 Jefferson Street SE, the former location of Temple Beth Hatfiloh, near downtown Olympia. Congregational members began much needed yard maintenance and interior cleaning on Saturday.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Congregational members of New Hope Anglican Church were working hard on Saturday sprucing up their new home, the former Temple Beth Hatfiloh, at 802 Jefferson Street SE, near downtown Olympia.

The building was recently purchased by local businessman Ali Raad, Marhaba Company, LLC, from Calvin Johnson, K Records, for $340,000.

The building was most recently home to K Records and has suffered a bit of abuse and neglect. The grounds have been home to the houseless for several years. 

Raad is renting the building to the church at a reduced rate in exchange for significant maintenance and repairs, inside and out. Repairs have already been made to an outside exterior area burned in a fire in 2016.  

The small, white building on the corner of Jefferson Street and Eighth Avenue was constructed in 1938. It is listed on the City of Olympia’s inventory of historic properties, but is not on any local and national historic register.

The original Star of David was removed from the building in 2017 and restored. It is now located at the current location of Temple Beth Hatfiloh at 201 Eighth Avenue.

One planned improvement to the split-level building is the installation of an elevator lift for those who need it.

Above: Reverend John Allen of New Hope Anglican Church stands in the downstairs meeting area of the former Temple Beth Hatfiloh on Saturday. Allen came to the New Hope congregation from Bellingham just a year and a half ago. 

Reverend John Allen of New Hope Anglican Church is providing fresh direction for the congregation of 35 - 45 members. The Church is less than 10 years old and meets in a variety of locations in Lacey.

“In the last year or so, we have felt a call to come to Olympia. We provide a weekly street ministry called Street Angels. We visit the homeless community, providing food, clothing, and toiletries, and talk, listen and pray with them.

“To do this through this building, being able to step into that role of ministering to the community, especially those who are struggling, is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be here with the people of this city," said Allen.

Allen said the sanctuary will have a traditional liturgical feel and get a new coat of paint with gray-silver colored trim. The altar area will initially be decorated with green decorations.

“We’re really excited about the fact that it was once a synagogue. That was really important to our community, actually. Christ was a Jew from the time of Israel and called out to the Jewish people, so we loved the symbolism,” he said.

The congregation will be in the building before September. The sanctuary space won’t be ready by then, so they will initially meet downstairs in the coffee area.

“We’re still talking about what we’re going to do with the space, but we have dreams and hopes to make the coffee area a place for the whole community to gather. We’re small, but we have a lot of personality and a lot of talent,” Allen laughed.

The first service at the new church building will be September 2 at 10:00 a.m.

A community grand opening will be held within the next few months.

Above: The doors are open to the community once again at 802 Jefferson Street SE.

Little Hollywood has written previous stories about the former Temple Beth Hatfiloh building including,“Olympia’s Star of David Returns Home,” at and “Olympia Temple Saves Star of David,” at

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Olympia Council Purchases Property for Homeless

Above: The City of Olympia purchased the 1.12 acre property at 2828 Martin Way for use as a city sanctioned homeless encampment on Tuesday night. Located near wooded areas currently occupied by hundreds of unhoused individuals, it will be called The Martin Way Village.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was a packed agenda on issues surrounding the City of Olympia's response to homelessness at its council meeting Tuesday night.

The proposed locations of two, 24/7, city sanctioned homeless encampments, collectively called The Villages, was revealed along with estimated costs for site improvements and operations.

One site is a city-owned, half-acre, former nursery site at Plum Street and Union Avenue, adjacent to the Yashiro Japanese Garden and the Lee Creighton Justice Center. It would be called The Nursery Village.

The other site, located at 2828 Martin Way near Pattison and Devoe Street, would be called The Martin Way Village. That site has a 3,800 square foot building, half of it currently in use by a business, with five restrooms and one shower.

The property is adjacent to neighborhoods, the Holly Motel, and wooded areas currently occupied by hundreds of unhoused individuals. Across the street is Aztec Lanes, a bowling alley. Next door to the site is the Ira L. Carter Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 318. 

Council approved the purchase of the property from a private party for $1.3 million.

The Martin Way site sits on about 1.12 acres and would allow safe car camping. Although there are 50 parking spots at the site, the city would start with five to ten spaces.  

It is estimated that the properties will need about $1.1 million worth of site improvements.

Each location would house 40 residents in a combination of tents and tiny homes. 

Residents for the locations would be chosen through a coordinated entry system and serve the most vulnerable, however there could be room for those who are at immediate risk. All residents would receive tailored social services while living in the village.

A public hearing on an ordinance for emergency housing facilities hosted by faith-based and non-profit organizations or local governments was also held. The ordinance will next be heard by the Planning Commission in October.

Members of the public gave council members an earful regarding the proposed ordinance and the two proposed sites.

Above: The proposed site for The Nursery Village near the Yashiro Japanese Garden and I-5 on Plum Street and Union Avenue. It is in an area that could be considered downtown, near the Eastside neighborhood.

One parent, Chris Peterson, expressed concern about the location of the encampment facility proposed at Plum and Union. That location is less than 1,000 feet from St. Michael’s School.

Phil Owen, executive director of Sidewalk, a coordinated entry organization for shelter and housing, supported the emergency housing ordinance easing restrictions on faith organizations, non-profits, and local governments to house the homeless.

He expressed surprise about the two city sponsored encampments, however, saying the proposal was moving very quickly and a lot more work and coordination between city staff and social service organizations is needed.

Costs to Address Homelessness

Colin DeForrest, City of Olympia’s new homeless response coordinator, threw out some big numbers for camp management, heard for the first time at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The annual operational expenses were estimated to be $904,000, the bulk of which is for staffing the two locations.

Several council members were uncomfortable with the cost and the proposal to use Home Fund money without the development of a Home Fund advisory board.

The new Home Fund sales tax of one-tenth of one percent for permanent supportive housing will generate approximately $2.3 million per year. The city’s website says it will take years before those funds will result in a completed project, however, on Tuesday night, it was proposed to use those funds for temporary shelter and encampment purposes.

The city has so far collected no Home Fund dollars. Washington State began collecting the increased sales tax for the city in July and the city expects its first check in September of this year. For 2018, the city estimates about $550,000 will be collected. 

The ballot language and RCW 82.14.530 focus on permanent housing allows short term measures and services for those in the housing, whether permanent or transitional, Olympia city manager Steve Hall told Little Hollywood last week.

A council finance committee meeting that was postponed last week will be held July 31 to discuss the figures. 

Amy Buckler, the city's downtown programs manager, said none of the numbers are set in stone and were intended to give council members a high level sense of what the costs might be, including contingency for unexpected issues.

City staff said they hope to move people into the villages by December.

Little Hollywood often writes about homelessness issues, and unsheltered, street dependent, houseless individuals. For more information, go to Little Hollywood and use the search button to type in key words.