Heroin Encampment Near Capitol Is A Public Safety & Environmental Hazard

Blocks from the Capitol Campus, where the I-5 Bike Trail intersects Henderson Bvld, there is a heroin encampment that is presenting a growing public safety and environmental concern.

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Empty 10-packs of syringes lay in the middle of the trail itself, and broken bottles and uncapped needles protrude from the margins of the trail, presenting a nasty biohazardous landing for anyone who happens to fall off of a bike or who strays too close to the edge of the pavement.

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An increasing amount of graffiti vandalism marks the trail surrounding the camp. The camp itself is filled with an incredible amount of discarded clothing, litter, needles and empty alcohol containers. Some apparently stolen mail/packages were observed littered on the trail here by one resident  last weekend.  A back-of-the-envelope calculation analyzing the needle debris clearly demonstrates that there is a sufficient amount of money being spent on drugs.

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The existence and proliferation of this encampment may be due to its location. It is likely a happenstance exploitation of jurisdictional confusion.  After reporting concern about the area, the responsibility for maintenance of this piece of turf was a source of puzzlement for several local agencies themselves.   The I-5 Bike Trail straddles property of WA DOT and the Olympia Public Works facility, although many folks may assume that this local trail is part of Olympia City Parks or perhaps maintained by the General Administration of the Capitol Campus.

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Like recent reports surrounding the public safety issues of Sylvester Park by The Olympian, jurisdictional issues between the many government entities in Olympia will have to be strategically ironed out before the impending summer narco-tourism season hits. Our quality of life, public safety, and enjoyment of our greenspaces depend on it.

We hope cleanup of this site will become a priority before remediation costs escalate.  We sincerely hope that future trashing of public lands in Olympia’s core by addicts can be prevented by better monitoring of our urban trails. Perhaps the growing ranks of the Clean Team can spread the radius of its sunshine a little further out one day per week on such projects.  Regardless, the downward spiral of heroin and other IV drug-use will surely consume more and more resources until the issue is addressed with vigor; the silence and excuses by the community must stop.

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12th Man Dies of Heroin Overdose

Statistically speaking, before today’s NFC Championship kickoff against San Francisco, 12 Washingtonians will have died of heroin/opiate overdoses just since last weekend’s victory over the Saints. The Olympia area has discovered a few suspected bodies in public places in recent days.

Here is a quest for every ’12th Man’ out there: Try using that earthquake-inducing voice to talk to 12 people this week about the topic of heroin. Perhaps you will hear stories about daughters lost to the streets, burgled homes, dirty needles about the town, first-responders’ life-saving encounters, or grandparents who have found themselves raising grandkids. It is impacting so many Washingtonians that we are beginning to experience a threat to our safety and quality of life. However, you likely will also come across somebody who has no idea what you’re talking about.

Ohio Governor Kasich (R) has launched a ‘Start Talking‘ website and campaign for parents and teachers to use with youth. It states that Children who learn about the risks of drugs through discussions at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who do not get that critical message from their parents.” Don’t wait for our state’s government to acknowledge a crisis and start a prevention campaign. Start talking to people around you now about this very serious issue.

Check out Wisconsin’s interactive ‘Fly Effect‘ website to learn more about the dangerous downward spiral of heroin addiction.

Madison Elementary and Olympia School District Taking Measures to Prevent Heroin Syringe Pokes

Recently, we posted about dirty heroin syringes found on the playground at Madison Elementary: https://concernedeastsideneighbors.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/dirty-heroin-syringes-on-madison-elementary-playground/

I sent a letter to the Principal. In facing the reality of my child attending a school in an area heavily impacted by IV drug use, I made a few requests. I asked that Madison develop a site-specific plan to protect students from accidental needle pokes on campus. Additionally, I asked that the school educate students specifically about syringes and what to do if found, as well as build awareness for the drug detritus en route to and from school.

Principal Domenico Spatola-Knoll responded. The school district is now working with Thurston County Health Department (TCHD) and putting together some specific materials which will be provided to our students and families concerning hypodermic syringes. TCHD will be training district staff who might encounter any of drug paraphernalia on school grounds. Staff performed a thorough sweep of the Madison school grounds before school started last Monday. Staff will also conduct regular checks of the grounds for these types of materials.

This plan is reassuring and I’m glad the school district is now aware of this new and familiar playground hazard. We are glad OSD is taking steps to prevent syringe pokes on the playground, but syringes are only the tip of the iceberg. If we work together, we can turn this epidemic around.

Will Olympia’s Leaders Speak Up about the Heroin Problem in this Town?

On September 17th, Concerned Olympians testified to City Council on Olympia’s heroin epidemic. Councilmembers requested a workshop with the County for more information.

Well, it’s January… better late than never?

City Councilmembers, County Commissioners, the Thurston County sheriff and local police, treatment services, and more attended the meeting. The core of the meeting was a presentation from Joe Avalos, Chemical Dependency Program Manager for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, which included statistics showing that heroin abuse is on the rise. Conversations revolved around what each organization is doing right now around treatment, housing, the needle exchange, etc.  Read the full article in the Olympian.

Most organizations at the table lamented the current funding situation.

The focus of the meeting was almost entirely on solutions to help people once they are already heavily addicted.

What was sorely lacking was any discussion of prevention and education.

The sole exception to this was Thurston County’s new Health Officer, Dr. Wood. Dr. Wood mentioned the state-wide education and outreach program that is currently being implemented by the State of Wisconsin, theflyeffect.com.

Concerned Olympians is working to bring this low-cost program to Washington State and start raising awareness about the deep community impacts of heroin use. The benefit of education and prevention far outweighs the cost of long-term treatment, incarceration, or rehabilitation.

The Olympian article repeatedly called this an “epidemic,” although no city or county official has used that word.  The meeting left us wondering, will our leaders start speaking up about this epidemic?  This is a problem that must be solved, whether there is money to solve it or not.  

One councilmember referred to this current epidemic as a “blip”. Well, a 500% increase in syringes exchanged since 2006 is hardly a blip. Our children can’t wait 5 years to have their school playgrounds, parks, and libraries free from discarded syringes. They need them now. 

 Budgets are tight, but words are free.  We hope our leaders will have the courage to confront this epidemic and bring to it the awareness and attention it deserves.

Dirty Heroin Syringes on Madison Elementary Playground

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Construction is wrapping up at Madison Elementary School and soon the kids will be returning home to the Madison campus on Legion Ave. Transitions can be rough with kids. However, rather than worrying about these issues, I have been worried about something much bigger – the dirty drug syringes I spotted on Madison’s playground over the summer.

I asked my husband to take a look around a few days ago and as expected, he found this huge uncapped syringe – right beside the swings.  I never thought that I would have had to talk to my kids at such a young age about drugs, but it has been imperative to explain the situation in depth to my 5 year old:

  • What syringes look like
  • What syringes are used for
  • Why dirty syringes are unsafe
  • What to do if you find a syringe
  • Common places to use caution and watch out for syringes

It has been an ongoing conversation about heroin and what is happening in our city right now. We spend at least an hour per day outdoors in the neighborhood, and so it has been impossible for us to avoid. Our son is really concerned and wants to know what we can do to stop this problem. He is depending on me and the other adults in the community for his protection and to solve this problem. No child wants to have dirty needles on the school playground. I don’t think their parents do either.

As someone who has worked in environmental and public health my entire career, I can confidently say that communities get the level of environmental and public health protection that they expect. When will Olympia stand up to the heroin epidemic and the thousands of stray syringes that are endangering the entire community and say “This is unacceptable!” When?

I sent a letter to the principal – a letter no parent of a preschooler should ever have to send. In facing the reality of my child attending a school in an area heavily impacted by IV drug use, I made a few requests. I asked that Madison develop a site-specific plan to protect students from accidental needle pokes on campus. Additionally, I asked that the school educate students specifically about syringes and what to do if found, as well as build awareness for the drug detritus en route to and from school.

Again, our kids need us to stand up to solve this problem. Will you?

Concerned Eastside Neighbors Is Now Concerned Olympians

Concerned Eastside Neighbors

Is Now

Concerned Olympians

Engaging Citizens & Leaders to Address the Heroin Epidemic, Increased Violence,

and the Call for Low-Barrier Homeless Services in Olympia

 The Need for our Mission

The heroin epidemic, the rise in violence, and the call for low-barrier homeless services in Olympia has prompted us to reframe our group and broaden our mission.

This summer the heroin problem and the violence reached a tipping point for many Olympians. Although the signs had been growing along, the arrests of six people for dealing heroin beside the library and the resulting death threats brought the epidemic into full light. This quickly followed with reports of kids being poked by dirty needles at the playground, and City Park Officials finding >200 needles in city parks in a single month. This summer was punctuated with frequent violent events such as stabbings.

We are at a point now where many have been personally impacted, or have neighbors, friends, or family that have been impacted.

Our Goals

Concerned Olympians will:

  • Create awareness for the increase in drug use, drug-related crime and , and the call for low-barrier homeless services in Olympia.
  • Take a critical look at what public agencies, non-governmental organizations, and law enforcement are doing now to address these issues.
  • Work towards community protection measures that protect our neighborhoods and public spaces.
  • Encourage appropriate services for specific, targeted populations with proper consideration to neighborhoods, vulnerable populations, the locations of schools and parks, and the zoning code.
  • Encourage decisions based on robust data. We will ask who we are currently serving within our community, who we aren’t, who we should be serving, and where.

Background

Our group originally came together to oppose placement of a low-barrier homeless shelter, the People’s House, adjacent to Olympia’s Eastside Neighborhood. The original grant materials for this shelter stated that the low-barrier population could include: sex offenders and those with drug addictions and justice system histories. The shelter was proposed to be located beside an elementary school in our neighborhood. The neighborhood and the nearby public schools were never notified so we organized and brought a couple hundred of our neighbors out to oppose this location.

Ultimately, the shelter organizers decided against this site. However, the realization that schools and neighborhoods were never considered in the siting criteria for this high-risk shelter has brought to light a lack of holistic planning on these issues – planning that considers the whole community.

The Call for a Low-Barrier Shelter

We realize it is dangerous territory to talk about the two “H’s” – heroin and homelessness, in the same sentence. Most people who are homeless are not dangerous or using drugs – they are just in a horrible, desperate situation. But one reason the low-barrier model is happening is that churches who have historically supported homeless ministry find their clientele to be increasingly dangerous

The violence and drugs we are seeing in the homeless population is well-documented by the very thorough and unbiased work of Austin Jenkins at National Public Radio (NPR). His report titled “Murder Reveals Lord of the Flies Street Culture in Olympia” includes members of the young homeless crowd stating that “trust has broken down because of heroin and meth.”  This is also supported with the Olympian’s report of homeless camps littered with needles.

Yes, we need to help those in need. But low-barrier services require special consideration – considerations that include the surrounding neighborhoods and schools.

Increase in Heroin and Crime; and Loss of Public Space

Olympian’s Heroin Epidemic

As documented by the recent Olympian series, heroin has reached epidemic levels in Olympia. This is well tracked by the Thurston County Syringe Exchange Program. The Program gave away just under 200,000 (198,757) in 2006. This number will top 1 million in 2013, an approximately 500% increase since 2006.

Olympia is Not the Safe Place it Used to Be

This past summer, talking to your neighbors about crime and degradation in some parts of Olympia is becoming as common as talking about the weather. The Homefacts.com website ranks Olympia #5 in highest crime for cities in WA with a population of greater than 20,000 – above Tacoma. Keep in mind this data comes from 2012 and we should expect 2013 to be worse.

Loss of Public Space

Does a responsible parent let their children play around dirty, uncapped syringes? If the answer is no, then lets acknowledge the growing number of public spaces that we lost this past summer due to homeless occupancy, drug use/dirty syringes, or unsafe activities: Sylvester Park, Artesian Well, Woodland Trail, Percival Park, Lion’s Park, Harry Fains Legion Park, Madison Scenic Park, Bigelow Park, Intercity Transit hub, Port of Olympia Property… The Library… When this problem comes around bigger and badder when the fair weather returns, how much more public space will be lost?

A Call for Leadership

We will ask our leaders at all levels of government to confront these issues. We will work with the City’s councilmembers, committees, and police; the County Commissioners, as well as the state legislature and Governor to make these issues top priorities.

Moving Forward

Concerned Olympians believe that we can do better. We have the power to decide our City’s future. We will expect respect. We will be intentional in protecting our neighborhoods and schools.

We will actively work with the local and regional government as well as area NGO’s to talk about the root of these problems and provide ideas for real solutions.

If we work together, we can make Olympia awesome again.

Visit our website to learn more and to get involved (this url will change when we figure out how to do it!) –
concernedeastsideneighbors.wordpress.com.
Write us at concernedolympians@gmail.com
Keep in Touch:
Facebook – facebook.com/concernedolympians
Twitter – twitter.com/olyeastneighbor
Email List – tinyurl.com/cenemaillist

Another Low-Barrier Shelter Planned Adjacent to Eastside Neighborhood

We believe it is important to remain engaged in the development of services in our area. As the community conversation on locating social services, zoning, and community protection measures evolves, we will try to keep you informed.

This posting is to inform you that there is another low-barrier shelter geared toward 18-24 year olds that is in the late stages of development.  The shelter will be placed on the edge of the Eastside neighborhood at the corner of Pear and Legion, one block from Avanti High School and two blocks from Madison Elementary.  It will have 10 beds and will host a day center for up to 45 clients.

The organizing group, Community Youth Services is hosting an informational meeting. We hope you will attend.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday Oct. 24
Where: 520 Pear Street

More Information: