Thursday, February 20, 2014

People’s House Hosts Conversation about Homelessness

Above: A location for The People's House, a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter at 113 Thurston Avenue NE, is seen in the center of the picture (green building), across the street from the Boardwalk Apartments in downtown Olympia.
Community Voices About Proposed Shelter Location Are Heard
By Janine Unsoeld

Editor’s Note: While many people who spoke Wednesday night were known to me, some did not say their names before speaking, or just used their first name. Out of respect, I have reported that introduction as stated and have identified them as they identified themselves unless they voluntarily gave their names to me or said I could use their names.

About 150 people attended Wednesday night's public forum at Temple Beth Hatfiloh to learn more about locating The People’s House, a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter at 113 Thurston NE in downtown Olympia.
Downtown Olympia suffers from a lack of accessible bathroom facilities and people using make-shift night and day shelters in downtown business doorways, parks, at the transit center, on the waterfront at Percival Landing and boardwalk, and the library.
There were 237 unsheltered homeless in 2013, according to the homeless point-in-time count conducted last January by the city and county.

People spoke passionately. Several opponents were residents of the Boardwalk Apartments, a low-income senior independent-living complex which houses about 300 residents.

The People’s House, proposed to be a low-barrier 40 bed facility, sees itself as an entry point to other area services and a pathway to permanent housing, leading to a community transformation.

After showing a brief video about The People’s House on a big screen, which can also be seen at, Meg Martin, program director for The People’s House, explained the benefits of an enhanced shelter with social services.

“When people come into shelters between 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at night, and have to leave by 7:00 a.m., “there’s nothing we can do with them during that time….People discard their clothes and belongings on the streets because they have no access to laundry facilities.” The proposed day shelter will have shower, bathroom, and laundry services.

One Boardwalk resident said, “This is going to be directly across from us. It’s a serious problem. People are breaking into our buildings and cars – a good 120 (homeless) people are in our area. We hear screaming and yelling. These 40 beds aren’t going to put a dent in our homeless situation. There’s no reason to put something like that there…this is not how I intended to spend my senior years….”

David, who has managed buildings downtown for 12 years, says he has cleaned up more urine and feces on the street and in doorways in this last year than he has in 12 years. “And we’ve just spent, what, $24 million on a new fa├žade for the Washington Center? We need restroom facilities.”

Tom Dorian, Don’s Camera owner, said, “I don’t believe a 40 bed shelter is going to come close to what we need…I’d really like to see a business plan. You are about to spend $400,000 – that’s money that will be taken away from proven programs. First you were talking about an evening shelter, now you’re talking about a 24 hour shelter. Not once have you come to us, those who work and live downtown, and asked where should we place this shelter? I’ve personally been involved with Drexel House (a men’s shelter)…We all want to help the homeless, the less advantaged, but you are providing enablement. (Let me explain) 1. Many are mentally ill; 2. Many suffer from substance abuse; and 3. There are individuals who do not want to adhere to the rules or regulations, be a part of the community and show no respect. It’s proposed to be near the new Children’s Museum, playground, the Boardwalk Apartments, and the Farmer’s Market, and you want to be right in the middle of it. Talk to me up front instead of at the tail end. I want to help you….”

Betty Houser, a volunteer at Sidewalk, an Olympia homeless advocacy and support center, said she lives in the South Capitol neighborhood. “We are in the midst of a recession. People are hurting everywhere. It’s all over town…we all feel vulnerable and we need to take care of the people and get them off the street….Especially with the men, it’s so disheartening. We have to turn so many men away…and there’s no place for couples at this point. If you’re willing to sleep separately, you may find shelter but you won’t have each other to look out for….”

Bill Garson said he lives near the proposed location. “.…What is the real day use population? Are churches willing to guarantee to keep this funding and these professionals in place? BHR (Behavioral Health Resources) has a financial problem. The $400,000 isn’t new money, it’s from another program…to not have a full plan laid out doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are locations you’ve refused to look at. Sometimes you have to compromise…we’re willing to help with a location that makes sense to us….”

A man said, “The reality is, people are in distress, and there have been some implications that Interfaith Works doesn’t know what they’re doing, like this one project is a far outlier…they’ve been successful in the past and they will be in the future.”

Gabi Clayton said she has worked, lived and run homeless shelters in New York and Mississippi. “We had rules. If they couldn’t follow them, they couldn’t stay….I worked at Haven House (an Olympia co-educational, crisis residential shelter for youth). I know it’s scary, but if you can get past the labels…and see our neighbors….I would like to be at Boardwalk and would like to know the shelter is my neighbor.”

Sammy Harvell, program director at Stonewall Youth, a LGBTQQIA youth support organization that has an office downtown, said, “Sure, I have feces on my doorstep, we’re near a homeless camp, there’s people shooting up…but when I was 15 years old, I was in that same position. When I was 15 to 24 years old, I was on and off the streets. I was one of those troublemakers….Percival Landing was my favorite place to do drugs. If it wasn’t for our service providers, I wouldn’t be here – CYS (Community Youth Services) got me into housing and I got to work on other stuff. People stay in Olympia because this is their community. This is where I belong. People trying to access services are people too….I remember back in the day when I was getting kicked out because I was queer… (and now I’m) here today talking about all the successes in my life. Having these services changed my life….I see a solution in this. Give us a chance. How will we know if we haven’t given it a try?”

Jessica Archer of Concerned Olympians, a group that opposed The People’s House’s proposed location on the Eastside neighborhood near St. Michael’s School and Madison Elementary School, said it’s great to see people care. She feels the downtown location is wrong as well. “We can find solutions that work…I don’t know what the answer is. We have a 500% increase in heroin use in Olympia since 2006….”

Safiya Crane said she has been a resident of Olympia for 30 years and is a Sidewalk advocate. “…They want to be clean, they want to take showers. When the laundry mat next to Ralph’s became something else, the only place to go is the laundry mat near Division and Harrison on the Westside. Don’t take things like doing your laundry for granted – it’s awesome….I can’t help but think this is due to misperceptions and misunderstandings. Somebody has to give if we’re going to do this. This is Olympia! Can this be happening? Olympia is better than this! Can’t we work together?”

Dan Rubin said he’s lived here since 1976. “It’s a tough issue. I share some of your fears. I trust Interfaith Works’ experience….I have two suggestions: 1. Get real specific about what can be measured as if you have 10 to 20 years of funding. Will there be less feces and urine on the streets? I advise you to act like the long-term is what you have to deal with….2. Bring police with you. It would be much more effective to answer ‘What should you do if’ type of questions.  Faith has to be there that criminal behavior will be intervened….We need to give this a try.”

Another man said, “Why the poor, why the homeless? Why was Christ home and poorless? Pope Francis, in Joy of the Gospel, said, “The poor and the homeless have much to teach us…to lend our voice to their causes…but also to be their friends…to possess a loving attention…. How beautiful are those cities who overcome, trust…How attractive…” The man concluded by saying, “My prayer is that we have that kind of integration in Olympia and our homeless will have a place to go in Olympia, wherever that may be.”

A woman said that she recently helped a man downtown near Furniture Works who said he was 76 years old. “No one should be sitting out there, much less a 76 year old! I was going to take him home. He was sitting on a bench. I…gave him food and water. When he became revived, he said, ‘I believe in the Lord!’ I was like, great, this man has gone to places where he’s had to say that or he knows there’s a God.’ Then he said, ‘You be sure to stay warm tonight because your heart bleeds.’” She said she has since gone downtown many times to find him again, but has been unsuccessful.

Another woman said she was homeless in 1957 when she was 17 years old, and again six years ago when the snow took out her house. “When I was 17, I worked for 25 cents an hour, and I made it. Now I’m in the Boardwalk Apartments. I’m not against helping the homeless, I’m against the location. They’re druggies and rapists. I don’t want them in my neighborhood. The homeless are pests.”

When the previous speaker said the last sentence, another woman jumped up to get in line to speak.

“Be gentle with each other! The homeless have been called trash, pollution, as if they were subhuman. If we’re going to have this conversation, they deserve respect. They are powerless!”

Another woman ended the evening by saying that she can’t think of a better location for the shelter. As for being near the Boardwalk Apartments, she addressed the woman who lives there (who recently spoke) saying, “You may disagree with me, but there’s nothing like a grandmother to give love and warming.”

To the organizers of the evening, she said, “What a job you do, I bow to you.”

For more information about The People’s House, go to and use the search button using key words.
The People’s House is at