Thursday, December 8, 2016

Downtown Olympia Winter Warming Center Permit Sought

Above: As snow fell on South Sound late Thursday afternoon, a daytime winter warming center can’t open soon enough for some of Olympia's most vulnerable residents. Interfaith Works is seeking a temporary use permit to use the historic Hyak Lumber Building, seen above, as a warming center with community social service resources, as soon as possible through March 2017.

By Janine Gates

An unanticipated delay due to funding setbacks in the opening of the Providence Community Care Center has caused the need for a full time winter warming center.

The Center was scheduled to open in early Fall at the corner of State Street and Franklin Street.

To fill the gap, Interfaith Works, a community non-profit, has requested a temporary use permit from the City of Olympia for the use of a building, the former location of Alpine Experience, as a daytime winter warming center. 

The historic Hyak Lumber Building is owned by Joe Hyer and his family, and is located at 408 Olympia Avenue NE, near the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and the Hands On Children's Museum. 

The warming center would provide relief for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness, physical or mental health challenges and substance use related challenges.

An informal meeting about the proposal was hosted by city staff at Olympia City Hall on Thursday evening. A handful of community members, some representing downtown businesses or organizations, were in attendance to hear more and ask questions. 

Interfaith Works executive director Danny Kadden and emergency overnight shelter manager Meg Martin answered those concerns and more. The informal setting allowed for a deeper conversation about local homelessness issues and current community efforts.

City of Olympia community planning and development director Keith Stahley said he expects to issue the permit with reasonable conditions next week. 

Stahley complimented Interfaith Works staff on the level of detail in their operations and staff training manuals and said he has heard some community concerns about issues such as people smoking or congregating around the outside of the building.

The building lease would be paid for through Thurston County, and City of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater housing funds. Martin said that the Hyer family is leasing the building for the cost of utilities.

Since early November, Interfaith Works has operated a warming center five days a week using two rotating downtown locations, The United Churches of Olympia, and First Christian Church. 

Due to scheduling issues, the warming center is closed on two days, Tuesdays and Sundays. 

At the new location, the group plans a full time operation as soon as possible through March 31, 2017. The hours of operation would be 7:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. daily and replace the two church locations. Staff would also be on site just prior and just after open hours. 

As it does now, Interfaith Works would provide the necessary supplies, supervision and support services to conduct the operations of the warming center. At least two Interfaith Works emergency shelter staff would be on site daily, plus volunteer support. 

Community support services will be available on site and include the SeaMar Community Health Care Management Team, the PATH program through Capital Recovery Center, Behavioral Health Resources, Providence Health Services, Olympia Free Clinic providing acute medical care and first aid relief and SideWalk, providing access to rapid rehousing, coordinated entry and shelter diversion programs.

Martin said that the current warming centers see nearly 100 guests per day, but they are not all there at the same time. 

Homeless people are busy. They have errands to run, with many health, medical, and food services located outside of the downtown core, said Martin.

She described the space as a calm environment. Some stop by to get warmed up, sleep, visit friends, or dry their belongings. In the new location, when they are not meeting with social service providers, they will do the same, as well as watch movies or play games. They are also actively involved in the upkeep of the surrounding area. 

They want to be good neighbors. They sweep and pick up trash. Their house is the sidewalk and they are interested in keeping it clean, said Martin.

Martin said that at the end of the last year's warming center season, about 130 guests per day signed in. 

Olympia Police Department Lieutenant Sam Costello manages the downtown foot patrol and downtown safety programs. He was positive about Interfaith Works' management of the current warming centers and the emergency overnight shelter. 

The interactions officers will have with street individuals will be more friendly if they have a place to tell them to go, said Costello.  

Shelter staff managed last winter's warming center program, and trained in de-escalation and emergency intervention skills. Staff will manage an outdoor smoking space to minimize impact on immediate neighbors, and all guests will be expected to sign good neighbor guest agreement.

Above: Interfaith Works seeks to use a portion of the Hyak Lumber Building, about 7,000 square feet, in downtown Olympia to serve the community. The space was most recently leased by the Thurston County Democrats.

Interviewed today at the building, Joe Hyer said he is excited about the opportunity to lease a portion of the building to Interfaith Works. Hyer says the Thurston County Democrats leased a portion of the building and left November 15.

“I like Interfaith Works. They know what they’re doing. I like their attitude, he said.

Hyer said the building, recently used as a former commercial space, is all up to code with fire sprinklers, modern wiring, and plenty of outlets. Hyer said he is leaving the Wi-Fi set up so guests and staff can use their phones in and around the building.

Hyer is also excited that the Thurston County Democrats left numerous room dividers, desks, and office equipment in the building, and are donating the supplies for the warming center's use. 

The building has two restrooms. Interfaith Works will also provide two outdoor port-a-potties to accommodate demand, which will be locked when the warming center is not open.

At the meeting, Connie Phegley, owner of Old School Pizza, said that she is not happy that the public bathrooms at East Bay Plaza are closed, and yet Interfaith Works has to pay for port-a-potties at the nearby warming center. 

Not only that, the port-a-potties are being put up for a certain population. I'm not happy about that and I haven't been for quite some time, she said. The bathrooms, located near the Hands On Children's Museum and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, are closed due to ongoing vandalism and drug use.

Hands On Children's Museum executive director Patty Belmonte was in attendance, and said that despite best efforts, there will be some parents who will very concerned and many others who will not be concerned. 

We will work to educate our families and ensure their safety. The reality is, we will hear from many families. Undoubtedly, some families will be unhappy. We will work with Interfaith Works to make it as smooth a transition as possible, she said. 

Belmonte said she is developing a 'frequently asked questions' page to the children's museum website to help educate children's museum members about the warming center.

Interfaith Works has communicated diligently with nearby businesses, including Crawford Auctions, ACME Fuel, the Hands On Children’s Museum, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, and Martin agreed that open communication with families is key.

We are also serving families. Families come to the warming centers everyday. There's not enough beds at Pear Blossom Place or Rosie's Place at Community Youth Services. We're a mixed population. Some stay up all night and just need a place to sleep or if they are sick....

Stahley brought up the question of possible sex offenders at the center. Martin explained that Level 2 or 3 sex offenders are not allowed.

All I can comment on is our experience. We have had zero incidents and zero threats related to sexual offenses. We've served 700 unique individuals in two years and all are screened. Many we will serve in the new location have already been screened. As a behavioral based shelter, we know that when people do not have access to services, they are more likely to reoffend. Whatever criminal behavior they may have, when basic needs are met, our entire community is safer, said Martin.

Our day to day experience builds a tremendous amount of skills and that's reflected in our relationships, said Kadden. 

A lot of thought goes into contingency planning. Challenging episodes happen rarely but when they do, we're prepared....This will be a dress rehearsal for when the Providence Community Care Center opens. Connecting people with services will help us make that a success and professionalize our homeless services....We're trying to bring the community together in the long term. We're going to do everything we can to be mindful in response to calls and interactions, added Kadden.

Eastside neighborhood parent Whitney Bowerman is the parent of two small children, and said she is a member of the children's museum. 

Bowerman said she first met Martin when she opposed an Eastside neighborhood location once considered for a warming center. She has come a long way in her personal education about homelessness issues and credited that knowledge to Martin's work and patience. 

Knowledge is power, and there are preconceived notions. When you clear that up, it's magic, she said. 

Now, she and her children deliver meals to the shelters, and have gotten to know the guests and the names of their dogs. 

It's been a good experience for my children, to talk about compassion, to help them see the big picture. I started way far from where I am now. I was afraid of these people (the homeless), but I'm impressed with the program. They do a great job, she said. 

Her friend Joellen Wilhelm agreed. She and her young family are also Eastside residents and members of the children's museum and the YMCA.

A warming center is a basic human right. There's space for all of us, she said. 

Current warming shelter information:

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at United Churches, Social Hall, lower level at 110 11th Ave. SE; entrance is in the rear parking lot on Washington St. between Union and 11th Ave. Open for guests from 7:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. 

Thursdays and Saturdays at First Christian Church, Koinonia Hall (upstairs), 701 Franklin St. SE; open for guests from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. 

Donation Requests: Coffee, sugar, creamer, herbal tea, socks, gloves, hats and hand warmers for use after guests leave shelter. Round tables are also being sought for use in the new location.

For more information about Interfaith Works and its programs and projects, go to 

For more information about the Emergency Overnight Shelter and how to donate supplies, go to

For more information about the lack of 24 hour public restrooms, including the ones at East Bay Plaza, the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, Interfaith Works, homeslessness issues, the emergency overnight shelter, and Meg Martin, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words in the search button.

Above: The Hyak Lumber Building on Olympia Avenue was also home to the Olympia Shingle Company and may have been built as early as 1946.