On Thursday morning, August 8, we, along with many of our neighbors, read an article in The Olympian and learned about the low-barrier shelter proposed in the Eastside neighborhood. We were shocked to find that it would house sex offenders, addicts, felons, and those without any ID, thus not allowing us to even know the potential violent backgrounds of those who are living there. We could not believe this was in such close proximity to our schools. We were in disbelief on the short timeline, with plans to open the shelter by November 1st.
We assumed that somehow we had missed a letter in the mail, or some type of notification and announcement of a public forum, but this was not the case. Our neighborhood was never notified. Regardless of where you sit on this issue, we believe our neighborhood has the right to a proper public process.
On Monday, August 12, several Eastside neighbors attended a meeting of the Thurston County HOME Consortium. The voting members are made up of a councilperson from Olympia (Jim Cooper) and one from each of a number of the surrounding areas, including Karen Valenzuela, the County Commissioner. This was a “funding” meeting, where 2.1 million in funding for many homeless services non-profit groups (SafePlace, Family Support Center, Sidewalk, etc) would be divided up and voted on by the Councilmembers.
The proposed plan would take $400,000 away from rapid rehousing and other housing and services for women and children and give it to the low-barrier shelter. The rapid rehousing organizations talked about the impact this would have on their organizations. A woman from the Family Support Center stated that it would put “45 families with children on the street.” She spoke of one mother who was sleeping with an 8-week old infant in a park.
Members from the Department of Commerce were invited to the meeting to report on findings from a nationwide research study on how to end homelessness. They reported that rapid rehousing is the most effective way to end homelessness. The data was clear – rapid rehousing is the best method.
At this point, we expected that based on the data, the Consortium members would decide to give the money back to rapid rehousing. We were wrong.
Councilmember Cooper and the rest of the voting body chose to take this money away from housing and services for families and put it towards this low-barrier shelter.
From where we sit now, we believe the lack of notification in our neighborhood was intentional. The low-barrier shelter proposal had been booted out of downtown and the project supporters wanted to slip it into our neighborhood without notice. We are being railroaded. This is classic social justice issue.
Olympia is in crisis and we are not going to solve the problem unless we break out of “stereotypes.” There needs to be a camp in between “homeless are criminals” and “let’s house all the homeless on the West Coast to the point that we can no longer feel safe to use our parks, libraries, and public places.”
We have a right as citizens to a proper public process and decisions made based on the best available data.