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.