Olympia's Homeless Response

Immediate, emergency actions

Homelessness affects all of Thurston County, but is most visible within the urban hub of downtown Olympia. In July 2018, the Olympia City Council declared a public health emergency related to homelessness. Doing so enables the City to respond to the needs in the community more quickly.

The City is addressing the immediate, emergency needs with a variety of actions and strategies including:

  • Mitigation Site(s);
  • the Plum Street Tiny House Village;
  • a City & Faith Community Pilot Partnership;
  • Expansion of 24/7 shelter options;
  • Mobile Crisis Response and Familiar Faces teams;
  • Secure storage for homeless individuals' belongings; and
  • a Rapid Response Team that monitors City-owned property to prevent new unmanaged encampments.

Learn more about all of our homeless response actions at olympiawa.gov/homelessness and sign up for email updates at olympiawa.gov/subscribe.

Long-term strategies & actions

In March 2019, the City began a process to identify how we, as a regional community, will respond (in the long-term) to the homelessness crisis. This includes planning for the needs of residents, visitors, business owners and individuals experiencing homelessness.

The end result will be a community-driven Homeless Response Plan that includes a variety of strategies and actions, individual organizations or multiple partners who will take the lead on actions, and metrics to help us track our progress over time.

This process is hosted and shepherded by a Community Work Group made up of 11 community members who bring a diverse set of perspectives and experiences to the process. Learn more about them here.

What's next?

During the first and second phases of this process, the Work Group has heard from over 700 community members and key stakeholders through 17 different workshops, focus groups, listening sessions, online surveys, and community conversations. View summaries of what we've heard in the News Feed below.

In the next phase, the Work Group will use what they've learned to identify draft strategies, metrics and actions. Those will then be shared back out with the community and key stakeholders so the Work Group can collect additional input and use it to make changes.

How to engage

This page is the place for the City to share information about our homeless response efforts, and for the public to have their questions answered, provide feedback, and share ideas. Our goal is a productive dialogue that leads to real actions that balance the needs of the unsheltered with the impacts on the community.

A variety of engagement tools will be available below as we continue through this process.

Immediate, emergency actions

Homelessness affects all of Thurston County, but is most visible within the urban hub of downtown Olympia. In July 2018, the Olympia City Council declared a public health emergency related to homelessness. Doing so enables the City to respond to the needs in the community more quickly.

The City is addressing the immediate, emergency needs with a variety of actions and strategies including:

  • Mitigation Site(s);
  • the Plum Street Tiny House Village;
  • a City & Faith Community Pilot Partnership;
  • Expansion of 24/7 shelter options;
  • Mobile Crisis Response and Familiar Faces teams;
  • Secure storage for homeless individuals' belongings; and
  • a Rapid Response Team that monitors City-owned property to prevent new unmanaged encampments.

Learn more about all of our homeless response actions at olympiawa.gov/homelessness and sign up for email updates at olympiawa.gov/subscribe.

Long-term strategies & actions

In March 2019, the City began a process to identify how we, as a regional community, will respond (in the long-term) to the homelessness crisis. This includes planning for the needs of residents, visitors, business owners and individuals experiencing homelessness.

The end result will be a community-driven Homeless Response Plan that includes a variety of strategies and actions, individual organizations or multiple partners who will take the lead on actions, and metrics to help us track our progress over time.

This process is hosted and shepherded by a Community Work Group made up of 11 community members who bring a diverse set of perspectives and experiences to the process. Learn more about them here.

What's next?

During the first and second phases of this process, the Work Group has heard from over 700 community members and key stakeholders through 17 different workshops, focus groups, listening sessions, online surveys, and community conversations. View summaries of what we've heard in the News Feed below.

In the next phase, the Work Group will use what they've learned to identify draft strategies, metrics and actions. Those will then be shared back out with the community and key stakeholders so the Work Group can collect additional input and use it to make changes.

How to engage

This page is the place for the City to share information about our homeless response efforts, and for the public to have their questions answered, provide feedback, and share ideas. Our goal is a productive dialogue that leads to real actions that balance the needs of the unsheltered with the impacts on the community.

A variety of engagement tools will be available below as we continue through this process.

  • What We've Heard: Phase 2

    19 days ago
    Cover

    This summer, the City held several community conversations as part of the Homeless Response Plan process. This packet includes high-level summaries of what we heard at the following meetings:

    • July 22 - Faith Community Leaders
    • July 25 - Representatives of the Law & Justice Community
    • July 25 - Demographic Sample of Olympia Residents
    • July 29 - Community Resource Partners
    • August 8 - Community Resource Partners

    This summer, the City held several community conversations as part of the Homeless Response Plan process. This packet includes high-level summaries of what we heard at the following meetings:

    • July 22 - Faith Community Leaders
    • July 25 - Representatives of the Law & Justice Community
    • July 25 - Demographic Sample of Olympia Residents
    • July 29 - Community Resource Partners
    • August 8 - Community Resource Partners
  • 4th Avenue Bridge Clean Up Halted

    about 1 month ago

    The City of Olympia will not clean up the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge as planned for Wednesday, Sept. 11. Following a vote of the Olympia City Council during its Sept. 10, 2019, business meeting, the City will delay the cleanup of the unsanctioned encampment until “a comparable, safe and appropriate alternative location is available” according to the Council motion.

    On Sept. 10, First Christian Church stepped forward to work with the campers. The Rev. Amy LaCroix said the congregation would meet regularly with the bridge campers to support their efforts toward self-governance. The City is hopeful that other...

    The City of Olympia will not clean up the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge as planned for Wednesday, Sept. 11. Following a vote of the Olympia City Council during its Sept. 10, 2019, business meeting, the City will delay the cleanup of the unsanctioned encampment until “a comparable, safe and appropriate alternative location is available” according to the Council motion.

    On Sept. 10, First Christian Church stepped forward to work with the campers. The Rev. Amy LaCroix said the congregation would meet regularly with the bridge campers to support their efforts toward self-governance. The City is hopeful that other groups will also step forward.

    Over the course of the last year, the City of Olympia has searched for a space for a second mitigation site. The search has been frustrated by a lack of appropriately located city-owned land, and the feared impact on prospective neighbors to private land the city might consider purchasing for a mitigation site.

    As it stands now, the City will not clean up the 4th Avenue Bridge encampment as staff continue the search for an appropriate alternative location.

  • 4th Avenue Bridge Encampment to be Cleared

    3 months ago
    4th

    On Tuesday, Aug. 20, the City of Olympia notified campers under the 4th Avenue Bridge that the City would clean up the encampment on Wednesday, Sept. 11, and camping would no longer happen under the bridge.

    The City has been consistent and open with its concerns about the safety and public health risks posed by the unsanctioned camping in that area. The Department of Ecology has warned of the risk of water contamination from human waste.Testing had shown fecal coliform bacteria in the waters nearby. The City has worried about damage being done to the bridge infrastructure by campers digging...

    On Tuesday, Aug. 20, the City of Olympia notified campers under the 4th Avenue Bridge that the City would clean up the encampment on Wednesday, Sept. 11, and camping would no longer happen under the bridge.

    The City has been consistent and open with its concerns about the safety and public health risks posed by the unsanctioned camping in that area. The Department of Ecology has warned of the risk of water contamination from human waste.Testing had shown fecal coliform bacteria in the waters nearby. The City has worried about damage being done to the bridge infrastructure by campers digging out the bridge footings, and staff have been monitoring the status of utilities (such a gas pipeline) that run under the bridge.

    In the short-term, City staff took steps to mitigate those concerns by shrinking the footprint of the encampment, fencing off critical areas, providing portable toilets and garbage containers, and receiving a promise from campers that there would be no fires set under the bridge. The City also was very clear with the campers all along that ultimately the camp would be removed.

    As weeks went by, the encampment grew beyond the original footprint. In June, the City did a clean up of the areas, reset the footprint and placed rocks around a fragile storm pond to prevent camping there. Recently, the Fire Department responded to a tent fire under the bridge. While there, crews removed about a dozen propane tanks stored next to a burnt out tent. Staff have also continued to find digging at the bridge footing. Police and Fire have responded numerous time to activities and concerns created in the unmanaged camp.

    As part of the notification process, staff gave campers information on shelters and other resources.The City believes the three-weeks notice gives the campers enough time to move their belongings from under the bridge before the scheduled clean up happens. The City’s Familiar Faces and Crisis Response Unit teams have been and will continue to engage with the bridge campers and to partner with other social service providers to connect the campers to services.

  • What We've Heard So Far

    3 months ago

    Between March 28 and June 30, 2019, the City convened several community listening sessions and focus groups with a wide variety of community members. Participants at each session were asked for their input on several questions, some examples include: how are you impacted by the homelessness crisis; what would it look like to successfully address homelessness in Olympia; and what should we, as a community, do to address this crisis.

    View summaries for each below.


    Between March 28 and June 30, 2019, the City convened several community listening sessions and focus groups with a wide variety of community members. Participants at each session were asked for their input on several questions, some examples include: how are you impacted by the homelessness crisis; what would it look like to successfully address homelessness in Olympia; and what should we, as a community, do to address this crisis.

    View summaries for each below.


  • 2828 Martin Way

    5 months ago
    2828 martin way aerial

    The City purchased 2828 Martin Way with Home Fund revenue in July 2018. Through a partnership between Interfaith Works and the Low Income Housing Institute, 60 new shelter beds and 60 supportive housing apartments will be built at the site.

    Learn more about the project...

    The City purchased 2828 Martin Way with Home Fund revenue in July 2018. Through a partnership between Interfaith Works and the Low Income Housing Institute, 60 new shelter beds and 60 supportive housing apartments will be built at the site.

    Learn more about the project...

  • Setting it Straight: Wheeler Encampment

    6 months ago
    Wheeler unsanctioned camps

    The City has been hearing community frustration and anger about the large unsanctioned encampment currently on Wheeler Ave. This encampment is actually on State-owned property, specifically on Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) right of way.

    Because we are not the property owners, the City of Olympia does not have jurisdiction to address the Wheeler encampment and residents should address any concerns to the DOT.

    There is an unsanctioned camp on City-owned property (referred to as the Nickerson property) near the Wheeler encampment. Due to limited resources, the City is not yet prepared to fully address this unsanctioned...

    The City has been hearing community frustration and anger about the large unsanctioned encampment currently on Wheeler Ave. This encampment is actually on State-owned property, specifically on Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) right of way.

    Because we are not the property owners, the City of Olympia does not have jurisdiction to address the Wheeler encampment and residents should address any concerns to the DOT.

    There is an unsanctioned camp on City-owned property (referred to as the Nickerson property) near the Wheeler encampment. Due to limited resources, the City is not yet prepared to fully address this unsanctioned camp.

    In the meantime, a local faith-based organization has been working with the Nickerson campers to keep the camp contained to a specified area and provide garbage pickup. In the short-term, to address immediate public safety and health, the City has also placed a portable toilet on the site.

  • Community Stakeholder Interviews

    6 months ago

    The City contracted with The Athena Group to conduct confidential interviews with 20 local stakeholders to help better understand how to effectively respond to homelessness and its impacts on the city. The stakeholders represented a diverse range of community interests, including law and justice, business and economy, current and formerly homeless individuals, the faith community, elected officials, local residents and families, and homelessness advocates and service providers. Read the summary...

    The City contracted with The Athena Group to conduct confidential interviews with 20 local stakeholders to help better understand how to effectively respond to homelessness and its impacts on the city. The stakeholders represented a diverse range of community interests, including law and justice, business and economy, current and formerly homeless individuals, the faith community, elected officials, local residents and families, and homelessness advocates and service providers. Read the summary...

  • 4th Ave Bridge Encampment Update

    8 months ago

    Long term, it is the City's intent to completely remove the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge. We are currently working to build the partnerships, summon the resources and develop a plan for how to do so.

    In the meantime, for the short-term, we are taking interim measures to address the health and safety concerns of the community, City and Department of Ecology.

    • The City is in the process of shrinking the footprint of the unsanctioned camp under the 4th Avenue Bridge.
    • Notice is being given to those campers that continue to stay in fragile areas of the bridge...

    Long term, it is the City's intent to completely remove the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge. We are currently working to build the partnerships, summon the resources and develop a plan for how to do so.

    In the meantime, for the short-term, we are taking interim measures to address the health and safety concerns of the community, City and Department of Ecology.

    • The City is in the process of shrinking the footprint of the unsanctioned camp under the 4th Avenue Bridge.
    • Notice is being given to those campers that continue to stay in fragile areas of the bridge that they will be removed.
    • Next week, staff will be fencing off those sensitive areas to keep damaging activity from happening there.
    • Two portable toilets are expected to be in place on the site by Friday, April 5. The hope is that by providing these facilities, we can help abate activity that can threaten water quality.
    • Expedited garbage pickups will begin next week, and the Friday clean-up crews continues their weekly work.


  • Setting it Straight: Plum Street Village Placements

    8 months ago

    We’re hearing that members of the community are not clear on how residents are placed into the Plum Street Tiny House Village.

    Unlike other models of tiny home villages in the community, the Plum Street Village was never designed or staffed to be a long-term, supportive housing option. For example, the Village does not have medical resources to care for residents who cannot physically care for themselves.

    In designing the Plum Street tiny house model, the City worked with and made commitments to the surrounding neighbors and businesses. And we took advantage of the lessons learned by LIHI (who are...

    We’re hearing that members of the community are not clear on how residents are placed into the Plum Street Tiny House Village.

    Unlike other models of tiny home villages in the community, the Plum Street Village was never designed or staffed to be a long-term, supportive housing option. For example, the Village does not have medical resources to care for residents who cannot physically care for themselves.

    In designing the Plum Street tiny house model, the City worked with and made commitments to the surrounding neighbors and businesses. And we took advantage of the lessons learned by LIHI (who are the subject matter experts on this for the region) on how to make it successful.

    Plum Street is intended to be short-term, interim housing where residents can stabilize, connect to services, and set themselves up for their next longer-term, intentional step.

    Staff work with the Coordinated Entry system in identifying potential residents, but the Vulnerability Index is only one criteria for determining eligibility to be placed. Because Olympia residents expect our actions to impact homelessness in our City, placement priority is given to people who are homeless in Olympia. Priority is also given to couples.

    Those who join the Village are expected to make the commitment to be part of the Village community, including site council, shared management and cleanup of the Village, signing a good neighbor agreement and committing to certain behaviors.

    There have been people denied placement in the Village. Some because they need more supportive services than the Village can offer them and some because they weren’t yet in a place where they were prepared to commit to the community responsibilities and the required behaviors.

    For those who are ready to find some steadiness, ready to connect and use the services, and ready to be part of the Village community, Plum Street will help them take positive steps forward in their lives and give them some tools to be successful.


  • State Ave Encampment Removal

    8 months ago
    Lot

    The unsanctioned encampment in the City parking lot on State Avenue was removed and on Tuesday, March 5. Over 20 people who were staying there chose to move to the City's managed Mitigation Site.

    The lot will remain fenced for the rest of the month. It will go back to being a leased parking lot the first week of April.

    The unsanctioned encampment in the City parking lot on State Avenue was removed and on Tuesday, March 5. Over 20 people who were staying there chose to move to the City's managed Mitigation Site.

    The lot will remain fenced for the rest of the month. It will go back to being a leased parking lot the first week of April.