Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

by Janine Unsoeld

Homeless campers can stay put for now on the grounds of city hall and other city properties, such as the Olympia Center. Upon hearing the news during the city council meeting, many started bedding down for the night near the doors of city hall about 10:00 p.m.

On first reading, the Olympia City Council passed a proposed ordinance Tuesday night against camping on city property, which means there is time to put to work several ideas addressing homelessness issues before the ordinance will be heard again on January 8, 2013.

Councilmember Cooper voted no against the ordinance.

After thanking city manager Steve Hall for his efforts, Cooper said, "I do think there are other ways to do it. When I ran for this office, I promised my wife I would use my power for good...I have a feeling in my gut that this doesn't reflect the community's values...." Cooper endorsed a Homeless Bill of Rights proposed by homeless advocate Rob Richards at last week's council meeting.

If the ordinance passes on second reading, the ordinance would become effective on February 8, and the homeless will have to find other places to sleep.

After an impassioned public comment period dominated by numerous advocates for the homeless, and discussion by council members, the resistance to not pass the ordinance tonight on first and final reading signaled a compromise in hopes that several ideas to address homelessness issues will have a chance to be put in place.

One such idea is a youth shelter tentatively called Rosie's At Night. Operated by Community Youth Services (CYS), Rosie's is a place in downtown Olympia where youth 21 years and younger can hang out, get food, obtain supplies and gain access to other community resources. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he has been in conversation with CYS executive director Charles Shelan about it for three months and thinks the shelter could be activated around January 23.

Buxbaum also said that additional council monies could be allocated to Interfaith Works for use by homeless outreach organizations like the Emma Goldman Youth Homeless Outreach Project (EGYHOP), and Partners in Prevention Education.

Buxbaum also said the Union Gospel Mission is exploring their own enterprise to create a shelter. He also said that there is a conversation with the Salvation Army to address a change in guest in-take procedures. "We need to find out what's wrong with the system that there are empty beds."

Meg Martin, an EGYHOP outreach worker, in her public remarks addressed the fact that the Salvation Army has vacancies at their shelter despite people being on the street because the organization has barriers that "take away people's respect, dignity, and choices."

She said that while she kept homeless people warm last night, offering them hot coffee, she spoke with 22 people who filled out questionnaires about their needs. In response to unmanaged camping, she presented the council a detailed proposal for a low-barrier emergency overnight shelter for those who do not utilize current shelters.

Another portion of the ordinance addressed a change in the use of sidewalks. It passed on first and final reading and restricts laying down on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight. Again, Councilmember Cooper voted no, joined by Buxbaum, because it did not contain a sunset clause, which would allow it to expire in a year. The ordinance against busking was repealed.

This was the last city council meeting of the year. The next meeting will be Tuesday, January 8th. The proposed ordinance will be scheduled on the agenda under other business.

Land Use Committee Meeting

The minutes of the council's Land Use Committee meeting on Thursday, December 6 have still not been posted on line on the city's website or been made available to the public. The committee, chaired by Steve Langer, also includes councilmembers Julie Hankins and Jeannine Roe.

The December 6 meeting followed the contentious city council meeting of Tuesday, December 4. Councilmembers invited community members to come and provide input into what could be done about the many issues surrounding the proposed emergency ordinance to prohibit camping outside city hall and on city hall property. The meeting is said to have generated a great deal of input and a long list of creative ideas developed by homeless advocates. About 20 people were in attendance, including Meg Martin of EGYHOP, who proposed her outline for a low-barrier emergency overnight homeless shelter.

The meeting minutes, according to assistant city manager Jay Burney today, are said to still be in draft form and cannot be released until they have been approved by the committee. The committee cancelled its next scheduled meeting for Thursday, December 20. The meeting minutes are scheduled to be approved at their next meeting, January 24.

The meeting minutes could help other homeless advocates and community members not able to be in attendance stay informed and engaged in the current conversation. During tonight's council meeting, Jeannine Roe said the December 6th meeting was so good, she wished it could have been televised. However, it was not televised.

For more information about the proposed ordinance, go to and use the search button and use key words on this blog.

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