Familiar Faces Program becomes a permanent part of downtown services

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 The Olympia City Council approved funding for the Familiar Faces Program as a part of its city operations last Thursday, June 29, following a three-year trial period.

The program provides a new approach to crisis response and public safety as it delivers “peer navigators” instead of uniformed law enforcement officers to crises. Their goal is to connect individuals in crisis with peer navigators to help them address specific needs.

Familiar Faces started in 2018 as a part of a grant-funded contract with Catholic Community Services (CSS). The program underwent a trial period until it was integrated as a part of the city’s operations. Today, it is staffed by city personnel.

City leaders say that building a sense of trust between the peer navigators and individuals is an essential element of the Familiar Faces Program. Their services include trauma-informed care, referrals to help to secure permanent supportive housing, treatment for mental health issues and substance use, and motivational interviewing.

“This is a transformative program because our peer navigators have the power to transform both our approach to public safety and the lives of people who haven’t been reached as effectively by traditional strategies,” Anne Larsen, outreach services coordinator for the Olympia Police Department (OPD) shared in a press release.

Olympia police generally usually refer individuals to peer navigators. In turn, the peer navigators work with individuals to identify their needs.

In parallel with the Familiar Faces, the city also operates a different program called the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) that brings social workers and other unarmed individuals to defuse some crises.

Currently, the funding for the Familiar Faces Program comes from the Public Safety Levy. Funding for the first three years was from a grant provided by the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs (WASPC).

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