We appreciate the recent editorial from the Olympian recommending a broadly constituted task force to address the People’s House siting conundrum. Broad community consideration has been sorely missing from this process. However, this editorial revealed a lack of understanding on the roots of this project, as well as where the opposition is coming from.
We respectfully disagree that the HOME Consortium is a “logical choice” to lead the effort to find a suitable location for the The People’s House (TPH) Low-Barrier shelter. Even though the HOME Consortium controls this money, this is the same group that created this conundrum in the first place by shifting funding from proven rapid-rehousing services to this poorly planned, high-impact shelter. They awarded County funds with City strings attached ensuring that neither the County nor City would claim responsibility.
Having the HOME Consortium select this task force is akin to having the oil industry commission a task force on climate change. Myopic thinking among this group has resulted in little consideration for the broader community. City Staff helped to find and prioritize prospective locations for The People’s House; however, none of the criteria considered anybody outside of the walls of the shelter. Nonetheless, the City Council is always quick to point its fingers back at the County when faced with comments opposing its location.
The previous proposed location would have placed Level 3 Sex Offenders right beside an elementary school. Now, the choice spot is directly beside an affordable senior housing complex in Downtown Olympia. Supporters say the shelter should be “close to services.” One service that is nowhere near Downtown is treatment for drug addiction. There are needles and there are lots of drugs, but there are no chemical dependency treatment or support services near Downtown. We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic and Downtown Olympia is the epicenter. Downtown Olympia is not the place to be if you want to get clean. Adding to this epidemic, the shelter organizers are involved with a Seattle non-profit that is unapologetically run by heroin users. The Executive Director of this organization recently gave an interview on NPR where he promoted opiate use. When asked about the risks of heroin use, he spoke only of how drug laws make heroin use dangerous.
These choices and mindsets should lead us to question the decision-making and accountability of TPH. Accountability matters, especially when public funds are involved. Lack of accountability could easily endanger funding for all homeless non-profits in Olympia.
The Olympian needs to expand it’s vocabulary beyond NIMBY and “perceived threats.” People in Olympia have moved beyond being afraid. At this point, they are just fed up with the behavior of the criminal and drug-addicted element of the low-barrier population and they see this shelter proposal for what it is – a high-risk shelter that will have significant and negative impacts on it’s immediate neighbors. If The Olympian feels compelled to use an acronym for name-calling stakeholders, here are a few I would suggest: NFICP (Not for Illogical City Planning) or NACCP (Non Addict-Centric City Planning).
The task force that is needed should be composed largely of members not employed by or serving on the boards of social services organizations. It should include a broader diversity of perspectives. The task force should go back to the drawing board and decide whether this shelter is even viable.
As we watch Olympia deterioriate into the drug and crime capitol of the state, maybe we should start looking at other things that could be made low-barrier. For instance, how can we lower the barrier to having a functional city? How can we lower the barrier to public safety? How can we lower the barrier to parks free of sex traffic, IV drug, and alcohol use? These are also barriers we need to get serious about lowering.