Homelessness in Thurston County: Time in The Jungle


Two port-a-potties stood as sentinels when I visited The Jungle, in Olympia, last Friday, March 3, 2023. Nearby, a gaggle of shopping carts filled with refuse congregates by a dumpster; the surrounding ground is covered in garbage.

A muddy path runs away from the Martin Way East/Ensign Road NE intersection and down into The Jungle, a predominately tree-covered property stretching south to Pacific Avenue.

It's also the site of the largest neighborhood of tarp and tent homes in Olympia – to say nothing of the tons of accumulated trash and vehicles - for some of the area's homeless people.

While proceeding down a slippery and well-worn path, several individuals approached. They looked tired, hungry, cold – and were wrapped in defiant despair.

"Why are you here?" a woman challenged.

When told that photography visually tells a story about the human condition, she thought for a moment and then reluctantly said, "Okay, but don't take any pictures of me."

Several others standing by asked what would be photographed. When told the images would be of their homes, one man demanded to know why.

He seemed somewhat satisfied to hear that the photographs are intended to bring a heightened sense of awareness about their lives.

A brief conversation began, and these individuals talked about a red metal box nailed to a tree where Narcan had once been stored; that the port-a-potties are rarely serviced; that medical care comes only in the form of basic first aid kits; that they've never talked to a mental health counselor or seen a doctor. As to clothes, food and water, one added that sometimes charitable organizations stop by to help out.

I wondered when and where these homeless people showered, when their last hot meal was, and how they slept under tarps during the recent windy, rainy and cold nights.

Surrounding municipalities, county agencies and some state departments are aware of the situation. They are collaborating to develop workable solutions to assist those living in The Jungle and other homeless encampments. This is a good start.

But perhaps a bit more alacrity, cooperation and funding is needed by all concerned in confronting this homelessness – and humanitarian - crisis.

Most of you reading this would not want to spend time in The Jungle; neither do most of those living there now.

JM Simpson is a veteran photojournalist who lives in Lacey.

The opinions above are, of course, those of the writer. Got something you want to get off your chest? Post your comment below, or write it up and send it to us. We'll likely run it the same day we get it. 


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  • AugieH

    Who owns the property? How many, if any, of these homeless have been offered alternative housing by the City of Olympia? Neither is reported. Another example of inadequate "reporting."

    Monday, March 6, 2023 Report this

  • psterry

    1. I notice that the garbage containers are empty, but the area surrounding them is deep in refuse. I wonder why that is. Can the residents not put the garbage in the containers where it belongs? That seems to be the modus operandi for the homeless community. It doesn't seem to be to much to ask that garbage be placed in the containers that are provided. If this were not the case, people would be more sympathetic.

    2. This encampment is at the headwaters of Woodard Creek. I would have thought that the City of Olympia would care more about water quality than it does.

    3. It is my understanding that clinicians and counselors do in fact visit the encampments, offering care to the residents.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • DStusser

    To Augie H: You ask good questions. The JOLT's volunteer and paid staff are looking into them. But your criticism is unwarranted. In our 33 months of publishing, we have published dozens of stories detailing facts about homelessness in Thurston County. These facts cover state laws and judicial rulings, state and federal funding, local and intergovernmental agreements and contracts with private agencies and various volunteer efforts. Altogether, they paint a picture of a highly complex problem, little of which is the fault or complete responsibility of the city of Olympia.

    This item is a Reader Opinion piece, not a news story. We invite you to visit one of the many homeless camps in Olympia or Lacey and submit your opinion after you do so.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • Jacjacr

    Auggie11 in answer to your question the c ity of Olympia, dot and the llc that owns the chevron. To newer your next question no none of us have been offered alternative housing.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • Bigjules

    I’m interested in seeing the faces of the people that are living in the jungle and hearing their story.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • Kruz81

    I could care less about their stories, or have the drive to visit a hostile environment that exists if your not going there to get them more handouts. Ya, there is no Dr. going there because it's not a hospital or other facility. There are millions of dollars thrown at this demographic and programs all over. Most of this group that wanted help to get out has done that. The others continue to burden society and cause issues with their clean up as they migrate.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • AugieH


    I apologize, then, for characterizing JM Simpson's "opinion piece" as an example of inadequate reporting. I look forward to whatever responses JOLT volunteer and paid staff can officially provide to answer my two questions after "looking into them" especially as the JOLT's past reporting has been, as you claim, comprehensive.

    Perhaps JOLT can also remind its readers what impact the Ninth Circuit's 2019 decision in Martin v Boise and its 2022 decision in Johnson v City of Grants Pass have had on efforts to deal with the homeless problem. I suspect JOLT has already touched on these judicial decisions, but a refresher reporting article wouldn't hurt since the Ninth Circuit has placed significant limits on what government entities in that court's jurisdiction can and cannot do in response to the homeless crisis.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Report this

  • Sunrunner5150

    I live in the jungle. And this is a poor representation of what life is here. No one likes to live in filth. Most of it is here from people doing illegal dumping or from the people that choose to move out of this area leaving behind everything that they decide not to pack up with them. This is not where most of us would choose to live. But it is a place where we are able to stay, for now. We and I think I speak for most of us would like to have other options but of course we are plagued with addiction mental health issues job insecurities financial insecurities home insecurities you name it it's there all across the board. We are not monsters. We are no different than most people. We are mothers daughters Fathers and sons we are human and just trying to live, survive.

    Wednesday, March 8, 2023 Report this

  • CowboyofOly

    This is excellent non bias writing ...too many times I find it hard to read homeless due to bias one sided writing which turns into rants and belittlements .. there is a very serious and a lot of people don't seek help cause they just don't get help and to that means, what can be done to better the community and individuals? as in my own point, love thy neighbor.

    Thursday, March 9, 2023 Report this

  • Joyciefxck

    It’s really frustrating that they help themselves to shopping carts from local businesses. I work at the Safeway on Martin Way E and a few months ago we had 120 shopping carts. Because of homeless folks stealing our carts, we now have 23. Our courtesy clerks are now having to follow customers out to their cars to retrieve their carts so they can bring them into customers waiting on one. The amount of merchandise theft this year was $500,000. None of this is okay.

    Thursday, March 9, 2023 Report this

  • Superman8504

    These vagrants don't want help unless it's for free or do do drugs. This camp and many others are responsible for fires and high crime throughout the county.

    Thursday, March 9, 2023 Report this

  • SubterraneanCinema

    There should be two designations for two very different kinds of individuals when discussing this subject: 1) there are "homeless" people who are desperately trying to get into a basic indoor living situation so that they can start to work towards being permanently housed and secure, and who are working at surviving thru the daily grind until they can make that happen, and 2)there are "vagrants", who are perfectly content to live in squalor and filth as long as they don't have to work, and so they can spend every dollar that they are able to scrape together (generally by theft) on meth, heroin, and booze. There are a LOT of these kinds of "vagrants" around this city (and every other city around the country), and they don't deserve your sympathy or your help. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference between the two, until you have spent some time on the streets yourself, as I have. "Homeless" people are generally quite harmless and humble and grateful for aid. "Vagrants" are the ones that ruin bathrooms, camp out in the middle of sidewalks, and leave needles and garbage everywhere. They are the real problem, and it won't be solved with hearts and flowers.

    Saturday, March 18, 2023 Report this