homelessness

Retailers near Maple Court housing say shoplifting is up

Loitering, littering also increased in and around the stores

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Employees at several stores in the Hawks Prairie Village Mall claim there is more crime in the area since the July 5, 2023 opening of Lacey’s Maple Court Enhanced Shelter, located at 8200 Quinault Dr. NE, just across the street from the mall.

The shelter houses over 100 residents who occupied homeless encampments in Olympia near I-5 and the Hobby Lobby on Sleater Kinney Road.  As part of the state’s right-of-way program – designed to move people from highway encampments and into housing – they were moved to the Lacey site.

The former Days Inn motel is managed by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a nonprofit housing organization dedicated to providing affordable housing for families and individuals in need.  LIHI’s portfolio o includes two properties in Lacey and six total in Thurston County.

On-site managers help residents with housing and employment applications, healthcare, transportation, counseling, and reconnecting with family or friends.

However, for some store employees at the Hawks Prairie Village Mall, this does not seem to be the case.  

All employees interviewed asked that their names and the stores they work for not be used.

“There has been an increase in theft at the store where I work,” one employee said.  “When the homeless were moved from Hobby Lobby is when the crime really exploded; I watched one man from the shelter fill up a cart with almost $1,000 of merchandise.”

Other store employees commented that they regularly find discarded drug paraphernalia, residents from Maple Court doing drugs inside their stores, or overdosing outside of them. 

“We can come into work and find a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk,” a mall store manager related.  “And there has been a noted increase in the amount of trash left behind and theft in the store.”

'Settling period' expected for new residents 

“We are well aware of the increased activity,” commented Lacey City Manager Rick Walk during a recent city council meeting.  He added that as new residents are placed in Maple Court, there is what he described as a “settling period,” a transition period for those who had lived on state right-of-way to being relocated to Maple Court.

“While there is no defined timeline for this period, Maple Court stakeholders, including the City of Lacey, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), and Thurston County, anticipated there would be some adjustments as some of the region’s most vulnerable residents get established at Maple Court and begin accessing the wraparound services provided there,” Walk stated in an email to  The JOLT.  

He added that the Lacey Police Department has stepped up its patrols of the area.

While store employees acknowledge and appreciate the increased patrols, several wonder how long is the settling period, and how long are their stores and employees who work in them going to have to put up with the theft, drug use and danger.

Not from Maple Court, ‘keyholder’ says

“This isn’t our problem,” said Frank Iannazzi, a Maple Court resident who described himself as a keyholder there. “The problem that the mall has comes from the outside, people from not around here driving over there, not from the people living here. We’re not to blame.”

When contacted for comment about the situation surrounding Maple Court and the Hawks Prairie Village Mall, LIHI spokesperson John Brown told The JOLT, “We have also met personally with the local businesses in the area, and they all have direct contact with our staff.  It is our goal to make sure Maple Court is a safe and healthy environment for our clients, staff, neighbors, and local businesses. We have also had several meetings with our clients to explain the importance of us being good neighbors and positive role models for our community!”

Brown didn’t respond to follow-up emails and telephone calls.

On Friday, November 11 at 11:30 a male resident of Maple Court entered a store in the mall and a few minutes later walked out with some merchandise, according to a store employee.

“He’s been here before,” this employee told The JOLT, adding  “It’s not the first time he’s stolen from us.”

The JOLT sought comment about this from a Maple Court staff member. We were unable to locate a telephone number for the shelter. 

“I know there are some good people at the shelter who are trying to turn their lives around, and I wish them the best,” a store manager commented.

“But there are others who are in charge and who live there, and they are not doing what they’re supposed to do, and it hurts the community,” the employee said. 

Comments

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  • JulesJames

    Free housing. Free phones. Free food. Free merchandise nearby. One must wonder if less "free" might provide a more successful path for folk to find the incentive to invest into productive behavior?

    Tuesday, December 5, 2023 Report this

  • pheong

    'Settling period', ha.

    Tuesday, December 5, 2023 Report this

  • JW

    Gee, who would have thought a bunch of *** offenders, drug users, and criminals given free taxpayer funded housing and services would cause crime to go up in the surrounding area?

    Tuesday, December 5, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    Mr. Iannazzi is completely full of sh**. I have family working in that area and can confirm that residents of that shelter are a daily issue when it comes to the safety of employees and security of the businesses.

    Tuesday, December 5, 2023 Report this