Two residents of Evergreen Park Lane in Olympia voiced their concerns about the growing homeless encampments in their neighborhood.
At Tuesday's Olympia City Council meeting, Birgit Miller informed the councilmembers and city officials of the potential risks the encampments pose, such as recent fires and blocked sidewalks.
Miller claimed the encampments near Percival Creek present a logistical challenge for emergency responders and residents due to their difficult accessibility. "There are two camps by the creek that are only accessible via two very narrow and steep sets of stairs, one on our side, one on the other side, and a footbridge across the creek or along the railroad tracks."
The resident mentioned three fires this year, two requiring the fire department to respond in the middle of the night, navigating the railroad tracks with the equipment. One of the fires broke out directly below her house, endangering residents and firefighters.
In addition, Miller noted a growing number of vehicles parked along Evergreen Park Drive with people camping in them. She described that sidewalks are blocked, and the other side of the road has dead vegetation that could increase the risk of fires.
Jody Disney, who lives above Percival Canyon and Creek, reiterated the challenges faced in the event of a fire. She expressed her desire to work with the city to address these issues while acknowledging the need to balance community safety with the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness.
"My family's lived in that property for 50 years. We have seen what has changed there. And we'd like to get it back to where it was to some degree. But we also know everybody needs a place to live, and we're very cognizant of that. We are just concerned," Disney said.
She also requested a clear plan from the fire department on how residents can protect themselves and their property, including an evacuation strategy if necessary.
In response to these concerns, Olympia City Assistant Manager Rich Hoey acknowledged the safety challenges and the environmental issues with the encampments in Percival Canyon.
Hoey said the city will collaborate with the Homeless Response team, Code Enforcement, police, and fire departments to formulate an action plan for Percival Canyon. He added that the city has been working to address homeless encampments. “In the process of doing that, we are connecting unhoused individuals to shelter housing, which is the most effective, sustainable, and humane way to go about this.”
Hoey mentioned that the city has addressed some larger visible encampments within the community, including Deschutes Parkway near Percival Canyon, Fourth Avenue Bridge, Ensign Road and the access issues to the hospital and Sleater-Kinney and Hobby Lobby area. They are currently working on Wheeler Avenue.
"Once we have addressed Wheeler Avenue, we will turn our attention to Percival Canyon. It is large, and we will work with the police and fire departments to identify the most priority areas to work on first," Hoey said, adding that they would address the encampment in phases.
"We are challenged with the lack of housing. We need help. We will be reaching out to nonprofit partners and the community. In terms of resources, ask for more help from the state to help us come up with the housing that we need to be able to offer to those residing in Percival Canyon," Hoey added.
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