Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Olympia Declares Homelessness a Public Health Emergency

Above: Found cup and hat at The Jungle, Olympia’s largest homeless encampment. Photo taken December, 2017 during a community clean-up effort.

July 24 Council Study Session on Homeless Encampments

July 24 Council Public Hearing for Proposed Ordinance Regarding Emergency Housing Facilities for Faith Based, Non-Profit and Government Organizations

By Janine Gates

Little Hollywood

There are several efforts underway in Olympia to address the homelessness crisis.

At its Tuesday council meeting, the Olympia city council passed an ordinance declaring homelessness to be a public health emergency. Doing so allows the city to move forward on its efforts to tackle the issue in multiple ways.

After significant discussion which began with Councilmember Jim Cooper asking about ongoing camp sweeps, the council decided to hold a study session on the city’s current practices for dealing with unmanaged homeless encampments.

The study session will be held July 24, 5:30 p.m., at Olympia City Hall, 601 4th Avenue.

City manager Steve Hall said that the city is under certain regulatory requirements to clear camps as they impact public health and safety. The council will discuss the sweeps and options for future management of homeless camps.

Above: The Jungle, before a December 2017 community clean up effort. In 2018, there have been 27 active code enforcement cases related to homeless encampments in the City of Olympia, some of which may be occupied by 100 or more persons.

What prompted the discussion was the city’s plan to evict residents of a homeless encampment on Nickerson and Wheeler Street, set to occur July 19. Several community members, including residents of the camp, spoke at public comment about the pending eviction.

Councilmember Jessica Bateman said the ordinance declaring homelessness a public health emergency is a huge step forward and openly facilitates discussion of the “elephant in the room.” Passing the ordinance and allowing the eviction of campers at the Nickerson site were contradictory actions.

As a result of council discussion, there will be no eviction action at the Nickerson encampment until further discussion.

July 24 Public Hearing Regarding Emergency Housing Facilities

In May, the city council passed a resolution that directed city staff to pursue legal encampment options.

The city hired a homeless response coordinator, Colin DeForrest, who is actively developing a homeless strategic plan which will include short, mid and long term actions.

Toward that commitment, the Olympia City Council will hold a public hearing at its meeting on July 24 for an ordinance that would allow faith based, non-profit and government organizations to site emergency housing facilities on their property. 

The hearing will be held at Olympia City Hall. The council meeting starts at 7:00 p.m.

There are numerous stipulations in the proposed ordinance for applicants including the need to obtain permits and provide notice to neighbors, the requirement of an on-duty manager, an operation and security plan, and a code of conduct for living at the facility. A full list of requirements is listed on the city’s website.

The recently passed Home Fund sales tax levy will help provide permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable, however, it will take years before those funds will result in a completed project.

Olympia Union Gospel Mission Update

In an article posted on Monday, Little Hollywood reported that there is a recent loss of at least 90 beds between the combined temporary closures of the Salvation Army and the sleeping arrangements at the Olympia Union Gospel Mission.

Mayor Cheryl Selby reported that the Olympia Union Gospel Mission told her that they now hope to finish repairs on their facility in two weeks, instead of the expected four to six weeks.

In the meantime, they are allowing the most vulnerable to stay on the property at night under supervision. Hot meals will continue to be served daily.

For more information about city homeless services, contact Colin DeForrest, City of Olympia Homeless Response Coordinator, (360) 709-2688, cdeforre@ci.olympia.wa.us or go to olympiawa.gov/homelessness

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.