Saturday, February 15, 2014

Low Barrier Homeless Shelter Forum Set

Above: A homeless person sleeping mid-day in plain sight on Columbia Street last month.

The People's House: Shelter Discussion on Wednesday
By Janine Unsoeld

Coordinators for The People's House, a proposed low barrier homeless shelter project that will provide day and night services to chronically homeless adults, will host a public forum on Wednesday, February 19th, 7:00 pm in the sanctuary of Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 8th Ave SE, in downtown Olympia.

A presentation for a 40 bed low barrier shelter for the homeless, now proposed to be located in downtown Olympia, will include ample time for questions and answers.

The People’s House is a project of Interfaith Works, a 501c3 nonprofit. Coordinators assure that the facility will be a safe environment, and monitored by trained, paid, qualified staff.

In a February 3 email from Meg Martin, program director for The People’s House, Martin announced the first installment of a video series that will be used for community outreach, engagement and education as the group continues to secure a downtown site for the shelter.

“As we pursue finding a location that we can call home, we have started initial outreach to surrounding neighbors and businesses of 113 Thurston St. NE. This is a starting point for dialogue. We are prepared for on-going outreach and communication to ensure that we are a positive and necessary piece of the puzzle for improving downtown. Thank you all so much for your time and consideration.”

In the 15 minute video, at The People’s House project coordinators Meg Martin, Cassie Burke, and Jefferson Doyle present their case, and the need for a community low barrier shelter.

“Homelessness is a complicated issue and The People’s House is one essential component of a solution,” says Burke in the video.

The shelter will service a diverse audience in need: adult men and women, couples, elderly, pet owners and service animals, overflow clients from the Safeplace domestic violence shelter, members of the LGBTQ community, and those with mental health challenges.

The facility will offer a community space, garden and kitchen, bathroom, shower and laundry facilities, internet, hygienic supplies, personal storage, a physical mailing address, and in partnership with Capital Recovery Center, offer a place to receive mental health support.

In the video, homeless advocate Selena Kilmoyer says the shelter is ideal for 2014.

“It’s a downtown hub of hope and solidarity which is so dramatically needed.”

Current statistics proving the street community’s needs are being supplied three ways: a direct survey conducted last year of the street community, a gaps analysis conducted by Thurston County homeless coordinator director Theresa Slusher, and the most recent “point-in-time” Homeless Census count.

In the video, Anna Schlect, housing manager for the City of Olympia, says 686 folks were counted in the most recent survey conducted in January.

“Over one-third were unsheltered – that means they had no emergency shelter…they could be living in cars, under bridges, abandoned buildings, out in the open…that’s a lot of people that have no roof over their head.”

Other homeless advocates featured in the video include Renata Rollins, a City of Olympia-related Downtown Ambassador, several downtown business owners, Sara Pete, senior librarian at Olympia Timberland Library, and Thurston County commissioner Karen Valenzuela.

A list of 52 downtown businesses is mentioned in the video as supporters of The People’s House.

Sara Reilly, owner of Darby’s CafĂ©, located on 5th Avenue, says downtown businesses are used as a day center, as many buy a cup of coffee to “rent space” to sit and rest, and get warm. She says The People’s House will help take the pressure off downtown businesses.

There are many reasons why Olympia has become a hub for the homeless of Thurston County, including the fact that it is the state capitol, with Intercity Transit providing regional, multi-county access and the national Greyhound bus system, both of which brings homeless people downtown from other places.

In a telephone conversation this afternoon, Martin said nothing regarding the actual location of a low barrier shelter is set in stone, and said that The People’s House in downtown Olympia is a step in the right direction.

The People’s House welcomes private donations. Donations may be sent via mail to: Interfaith Works, PO Box 1221, Olympia, Washington 98507, noting that your donation is intended for The People's House. Donations may also be made online via PayPal at
For more information or ways to get involved in The People’s House, visit their website at