The importance of accurately understanding the history, including the current state of affairs of any political issue, can’t be understated.
It’s the only way to grasp how we got here and decide what should be done next. I remember deciding to wade in and figure out what was going on with the homeless camps. It was getting off the freeway and seeing all the trash. Instant anger and the thought, “why isn’t anyone doing anything?” Not a great first impression, but I didn’t know what was being done. I thought, somewhat grandly, that maybe I could do something about it. As it turned out, what I wound up doing was writing, trying to be informative, doing some legwork and passing on what I was finding out.
But first, since I didn’t know what was happening, the initial step was getting on the phone, calling around to get myself educated. I was pleasantly surprised by all the efforts and actions taking place. Not that it addressed my immediate concerns, and there seemed some large holes in the community’s response, but at least “no one is doing anything” clearly wasn’t correct or close to accurate. There is even more happening now, although we have a long way to go. Just trying to keep up with a problem of this magnitude, increased by the COVID-19 challenges, is taking a huge amount of resources, time and energy. Solving all the causes of homelessness is not something we can do locally, but mitigating some of the effects certainly is.
Catching up with the players
I recently spoke with Tye Gundal with Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OlyMAP) and Kim Kondrak, the new Homeless Services Coordinator for Olympia, to catch up on what’s happening. Olympia and OlyMAP are two major players in this arena and Interfaith Works, whom I also contacted.
Both Olympia and OlyMAP are working on the Scattered Site program dealing with three camps: Ensign Road, Deschutes Parkway, and Nickerson/Wheeler. The city has two dedicated employees for the program dealing with the sanitation of these camps, including major cleanups. OlyMAP has two caseworkers and one site support person for each of the three camps in the program. They address everything from basic needs to having the camp residents develop and maintain standards of conduct, accountability and responsibility.
Left off of that program are the “Jungle” camp and the other small camps. Ms. Kondrak and her new assistant are left to take care of that camp and all of the other locations except the Downtown Mitigation Site which is under a separate contract. You can see the results of their work as sites are cleaned and managed. They are still saddled with outside restrictions for what they can do, for instance towing vehicles, but in the meantime, they are doing what they can with this huge, intractable problem.
Trying to integrate people back into the community is a real challenge considering the lack of facilities and resources, but there are definite first steps like getting people IDs and connecting them to basic needs. They will even provide transportation to other parts of the state if that is where they can find available services. COVID-19 obviously exacerbates the problem, for instance the number of shelter beds has been drastically reduced because of social distancing, plus they want to isolate infected communities and individuals to limit the spread of the disease. The needs are clearly larger than the resources but these are all steps that can and are being done.
Shelter, Housing and Care project
Interfaith Works has been active a long time in the camps and is soon to open a facility to provide a 60-bed shelter, 65 apartments, plus basic services like laundry. The City of Olympia is a major player and financial supporter of the project having contributed over two million dollars. They are also partnering with the Low Income Housing Institute, a non-profit organization that develops and manages hundreds of affordable housing complexes statewide. This is only one of Olympia’s efforts to provide money for transitional housing and shelter; they have been very successful in using their Home Fund to leverage other state and federal sources of money. There is a fundraising campaign underway if you want to help and more info at 2828 Martin Way Project.
So, what to do next that isn’t already being done? Clearly, the Wheeler Camp is next in line for some major effort starting with the cleanup. While the property south of Wheeler is city property the site between the road and freeway is state property. Recently DOT has been more willing to work with the city and ideally will clean up the site and start managing it (and their other properties). If not, the city will have to step in, but Olympia also needs the state’s permission as it’s state property, so again it’s not simple nor totally under local control.
While talking to Olympia housing staff it’s clear that they consider the camps to be temporary, not permanent. That is refreshing news. It also appears that the state’s moratorium on evictions may no longer apply to homeless camps. That being the case we can have a community discussion on the timeline, criteria and process for closing or moving the camps. That is similar to what is happening with Ensign Road as we find a place to move the RVs.
I suspect a lot of the anger we see directed towards the homeless and camps is precisely because people aren’t aware of what’s being done, aren’t seeing enough progress, or simply want the camps gone which isn’t going to happen fast for a number of reasons. Many of those reasons simply are imposed, not in our control, so again we must forge ahead and do what we can. One thing we know for sure that isn’t helping – driving by shouting insults or swearing at the people in the camps. Sadly, this occurs regularly. Cruelty and meanness never help anyone, especially those that are poor, addicted, or mentally ill. It’s just deplorable.
It’s only by conversing, understanding how we got here, and what has and is being tried can we see possibilities for what to do next. Without that, we have no frame of reference. What’s left are simple reductions, slogans, and general pronouncements. In the case of homelessness, it could be “the people in government don’t care or understand.” We now know that’s inaccurate. On the other hand, we might hear “the homeless are dangerous, let’s get rid of the camps,” a stereotype and not an immediately possible or compassionate solution.
This is why, as a method for evaluating candidates, I want to know whether they have done their homework, are broadly knowledgeable and up to speed, especially on the issues they are most passionate about? How will they recognize and work with the current municipal efforts? What specifically do they want to see happen that isn’t currently being done?
Recognizing what everyone involved already knows isn’t leadership, nor is denying the efforts currently underway, nor is being divisive or inflammatory. These are all easy things to do, not at all useful, and do nothing to help solve major, difficult problems. All of us benefit from current, accurate information; then together we thoroughly understand the problems and challenges that our community faces and can decide what we want to do to move forward.
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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Wednesday, October 27, 2021 Report this