Thursday, December 6, 2018

Update on Olympia Homelessness Issues

Above: A home in a tent city at State Avenue and Franklin Street on a city owned parking lot in downtown Olympia. In the background is Billy Frank Jr. Place, an apartment complex operated by the Low Income Housing Institute.

Code Blue Declared, Winter Survival Events, Volunteer Training Available

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Calling it a “Code Blue” public health emergency, the Thurston County Public Health Department activated its hazard shelter plan on Tuesday. 

As temperatures dropped into the 20s in the evenings this week, the emergency increased overnight bed capacity for an additional 130 beds.

The shelter network includes the Salvation Army, St. Michael’s Church, Community Youth Services, and the Family Support Center, Union Gospel Mission, the Yelm Community Services Center.

The plan is intended to accommodate people who might not survive in outdoor camps, doorways or cars, and highlights the urgency to address and coordinate Olympia area homelessness issues.

At a tent city on the corner of State and Franklin Street, the Olympia Fire Department has allowed residents on the lot to have contained fires to keep warm and actively educating them about safe fire containment methods.

In November, the city counted approximately 310 individuals sleeping outdoors or in tents in downtown Olympia. There are many more living nearby in wooded areas, under bridges, and along railroad tracks. 

A several hour study session with briefings by area social service providers to the Olympia City Council Tuesday night helped councilmembers get a much clearer picture of what has become a multi-pronged approach to homelessness issues.

Above: An Intercity Transit bus with a Little Creek Casino advertising slogan, Live a Little, lends itself to a bit of irony as it passes by a tent city on the corner of State Avenue and Franklin Street in downtown Olympia. 

Above: The city is preparing a site with space for 80 tent sites on a parking lot on Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street behind Intercity Transit in downtown Olympia. The site has been marked with 10x10 painted squares and is expected to be available for use within days.

At State Avenue and Franklin Street, a tent city has sprung up on a parking lot adjacent to Billy Frank Jr. Place, a low income housing apartment complex.

Due to a September ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, cities cannot clear homeless camps without giving them someplace to go.

The city is preparing another parking lot nearby as a site with space for 80 tents on Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street behind Intercity Transit. The city is calling this a temporary housing “mitigation” site. 

Wooden pallets will be provided so tents are not on the ground, along with sanitation services and dumpsters for garbage collection.

A modified shipping container, provided by the Port of Olympia, will be available for secure storage of belongings. Plumbing, electrical, and two tiny homes as camp posts will also be available on site.

The Union Gospel Mission will provide support as the camp host.

City manager Steve Hall warned councilmembers that the site will be better than the scene at the State and Franklin Street lot, but it will not be city managed and will not have food drop-off capabilities, cooking tents or medical supplies.

The intent is to have two such sites with the total capacity of 140-160 people.

New Crisis Response Team, Familiar Faces Programs

A new mental health focused crisis response team funded by the recently passed Public Safety levy lid lift will begin work in downtown Olympia. 

Its work is broad-based and will operate with the Olympia Police Department as another community policing option, diverting individuals from jail or hospitals.

The crisis response team will collaborate with a new, grant funded street outreach and system navigation program called the “Familiar Faces” program.

The program will offer personal services to at least 15 to 20 individuals known to need the most care. The individuals, most of whom are street dependent in downtown Olympia, were selected using a vulnerability index by members of the Olympia Police Department’s walking patrol, the Downtown Ambassadors, and social service providers.

The primary goal is to connect individuals to services, divert unwanted behaviors, manage immediate crises, coordinate case support for specific individuals, and improve the safety of their physical space.

Two individuals called “peer navigators” will work with these individuals most of the day and be reachable through evening hours.

The program will be patterned off a successful program in Eugene and operated in collaboration with Catholic Community Services and Recovery International, an organization that has over 25 years of experience.

In the future, a van will be available for use as a citywide mobile crisis service and transport individuals to wherever needed such as shelters and health centers.

The Familiar Faces program is funded through a $106,000 grant that expires in June 2019.

Briefing on the Providence Community Care Center

Providence Community Care Center (PCCC) on the corner of State Avenue and Franklin Street has been in service for one year. It operates Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and closed on Saturdays.

Their briefing included representatives from the Center, Interfaith Works, SideWalk, Behavioral Health Resources, and the Olympia FREE Clinic.

The PCCC's day room provides clients ongoing connection to shelters and other services, hygiene and hospitality services such as restrooms, showers, laundry, bag check, water, coffee, distribution of hygiene supplies. There are also chairs, tables and couches for respite.

In October, the PCCC saw 2,728 guests, 207 of whom were new.

Of the total number seen, 115 were enrolled in coordinated entry, 161 sought mental health services and 62 individuals sought physical health services. The building facilities provided 803 showers, 258 loads of laundry, and 1,160 bags were checked. Twenty-nine individuals found housing or housing placements.

The building sees an average of 101 guests per day, but staff said that number is likely to go up as the weather gets colder. The Center is not intended to be a day warming shelter.

It was anticipated that the Center would be funded for ten years, but a representative of the Providence Foundation said they could fund it for only three or four more years.

The Providence St. Peter Foundation is funding the deficits of the Center including the building lease and operating expenses, which is approximately $300,000 per year or $25,000 per month.   

Interfaith Works

Meg Martin of Interfaith Works gave a report on the day warming shelter in operation at First Christian Church on Franklin Street.

Three support staff and one floor manager is onsite six days a week, who facilitate crisis management, hygiene and hospitality services and connection to services. 

It is being funded in 2018 by the City of Olympia, City of Tumwater, Thurston County, private funding, and Interfaith Works.

Funding in 2019 for the day warming shelter looks much better, Martin said, with Thurston County providing $200,700. There is a $35,300 gap in funding, but Martin says she is very pleased overall and gap funding will be sought in a myriad of ways.

Emergency Housing Ordinance Update

The city recently passed an emergency housing ordinance that allows for the establishment of temporary emergency shelter sites on faith-based, non-profit or government properties, subject to a permit.

Tentative plans for three faith-based sites are underway, said Keith Stahley, City of Olympia community planning and development director. The sites will be co-sponsored by the city and faith communities in which the city will help cover costs and provide technical assistance toward their operations.

Plum Street Tiny Village, Martin Way Permanent Housing Site

Meanwhile, the Plum Street Tiny Village is taking shape and will open in mid to late January at 830 Union St. It will provide space for 40 individuals. Twelve tiny homes have been built and more than a dozen are under construction.

Plans for permanent housing site are also underway at 2828 Martin Way and may open in 2020, said Stahley.

Additionally, the city is providing funding to move two existing shelters to a 24/7 operation: Community Youth Services Rosie’s Place will open its doors to youth during the day, and the Salvation Army is upgrading their building on Plum Street to provide a place for individuals during daytime hours.

Ending the evening on a high note, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones said that he feels the city has “matured” and that there’s a buzz in the community that the city is finally taking on the issue of homelessness.

Tye Gundel, a volunteer social worker with Just Housing, sat in the audience through the evening’s reports. Just Housing distributes food and supplies to encampments in the downtown area and beyond and meets with individuals in need on a regular basis.

Gundel says that the point-in-time count for homeless individuals is known to be 40 to 50 percent higher than those who are actually counted in one 24-hour period each January.

“The biggest piece that’s missing is all the people not fitting into the city’s so-called mitigation camps, so that’s where we’ve been putting our energy - with those who are living in the woods and other places, Gundel said on Thursday. 

“We’re working closely with the city and other social service providers on strategies but there’s a lot of uncertainty. The city is telling us they’re not going to do sweeps unless they have alternative locations. We’re hoping that’s true. We’re also hoping the downtown business community understands and continues to work with everybody,” said Gundel.

Upcoming Events, Volunteer Opportunities

Just Housing is offering an opportunity to learn more about encampments at an Encampment Support Workshop on Saturday, December 8, 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at United Churches of Olympia, 110 11th Avenue SE, Olympia. 

Organizers will discuss why encampments exist, the challenges of residents and their neighbors, and how community members can get involved in supporting the survival of unhoused community members. For more information, go to

A Winter Survival Supply Drive is being held Saturday, December 15, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at United Churches of Olympia at 110 11th Avenue SE, Olympia. Survival supplies will be distributed to those living unsheltered in Olympia. Blankets, tents, tarps, sleeping bags, handwarmers, gloves, jackets, socks, hats, batteries, camp supplies pallets, flashlights and baby wipes are most appreciated. Monetary donations can be made at

The next work party at the Plum Street Tiny Home Village is scheduled for December 15 at 830 Union Street SE, Olympia. For more information, email and put Plum Street Tiny Home Village in the subject line. Assistance will be provided to those with little to no construction or painting experience.

Interfaith Works and Sidewalk conduct regular trainings on how to volunteer with the homeless. For more information, go to Interfaith Works at or call (360) 915-7306. The emergency shelter hotline is 1 (844) 629-7373.

For updates about homelessness issues from the City of Olympia, go to

For more information and photos of the Plum Street Tiny Village, the Martin Way permanent housing site, homelessness issues, downtown Olympia, Just Housing and other area social services providers, go to Little Hollywood and type key words into the search button.

Above: Tye Gundel of Just Housing accepts a donation of several bags of large men’s jackets and other warm clothes, socks, and shoes Thursday morning.