The closing of the Deschutes Parkway homeless camp last week was a real milestone for the City of Olympia in its efforts to respond to the homeless crisis. This was the end result of a long, complicated process.
The closure was ' not something that just happened overnight, the results of a knee-jerk reaction. Their mindful approach was demonstrated by how well prepared the city was once the day came to close the camp. They had resources ready, including counseling and temporary housing for most. That comprehensive approach respected both the housed and the unhoused.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank City of Olympia staff and The Olympian Mutual Aid Partners for all the effort that went into making this happen as smoothly as it did. Kim Konradt, the Homeless Services Coordinator at the city, deserves a lot of credit. '
Olympia and the region have now made significate progress on a number of fronts. So how are we doing? And how do we tell? Turns out that in Olympia's Community One plan there are a number of measurable goals which allows us to gauge the success of our efforts. I say "our efforts" because so many people are involved, not just the city. These data points include
There are also a number of measurements having to do with spending. I looked at Olympia's recently adopted budget but was unable to tell exactly what's been spent or what is planned to be spent. There simply isn't a place to look that consolidates all the financial efforts to combat homelessness. There are a number of programs in different departments funded by many different sources. For instance, in 2020 the city was awarded a grant of $800,000 to expand the Friendly Faces program. The preliminary budget showed over $3.2M for Housing, Homeless and low-income services in one location; this includes the Home Fund which is budgeted at $1.46M this year.
But I can't tell if that number includes expenditures from different departments like the Office of Community Vitality under the city manager or the Homeless Response Services. Nor can I tell where the money for the Scattered Sites program is. Of course, I'm not actually involved, I'm just a guy spending a little time trying to discern what's happening. You can see what the fund has done so far here: Olympia Home Fund In addition, those numbers don't reflect the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds which total $9.2M over two years.
Not all of the ARPA money goes to create housing or shelter but much is directed towards low income and housing. According to the city's budget, for 2021 the breakdown is:
The bottom line is that there is a huge effort being exerted to address what are national problems of poverty, addiction and mental illness. As we continue our local efforts, we need to know how we are doing. What we would expect is to see the trends shown in the chart below reversed.
Measuring how we're doing can also help prioritize and compare alternative program choices. For instance, let's look at the city's mitigation site. The city is creating a site with 80 micro-houses. Using the numbers above from the ARPA that's $33,000 each, plus there is the ongoing management cost. From the categories in the graph do we now consider the people living there sheltered? Or is this transitional housing? Considering the dollars and effort being expended is this our best choice? What have we actually accomplished?
I have no doubt that these are the questions that Council and staff regularly consider. There are a number of programs just now getting going, and we won't know the results for a while. But statistically tracking the results is what will guide the future expenditures and programs. Then we'll all hopefully have the satisfaction of success and know when it's time to change tactics.
Pat Cole - firstname.lastname@example.org - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussion about local civic issues.
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