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.

Post your questions about the City's emergency homeless response here.

Please be sure to:

  • Check to see if a similar question has already been asked. If so, please wait until that question has been answered, rather than posting a new one.
  • Stick to the topic (Homeless Response). Off-topic questions will not be answered.
  • Ask questions that can realistically be answered. Avoid hypothetical, rhetorical, etc.
  • Be civil and constructive. Our goal is a productive dialogue that leads to real actions. View this site's moderation policy and etiquette guidelines if unsure.

We attempt to answer all questions within 3 business days. However, due to the high volume of questions and complexity of this topic, some answers may take longer than usual.

Q & A

  • Why is the City of Olympia encouraging faith communities to house in tiny houses on their private property? Wouldn't it be better for tiny homes on City property, rather than counting on church volunteers to help the situation?

    achenhall asked 6 months ago

    As mentioned, the homelessness crisis is not something the City is going to be able to solve on its own. It is going to take a community-wide response to make a real difference.

    There is not a lot of City-owned property that would be suitable for a tiny-house village. Management of these sites can also be quite expensive.

    We are extremely grateful to the faith communities that have stepped in to help.

  • The point -in- time count is so limited. King County and Tacoma have worked to develop more helpful metrics, measuring such things as "inflow" and "outflow" from homelessness, whether individuals who exit homelessness become homeless again, etc. Will Olympia do the same?

    jken360 asked 3 months ago

    Yes, we want better information on who is experiencing homelessness and how we can improve our response. We are working with our partners at Thurston County to improve the Point in Time Count. We are also supporting efforts to improve data quality and reporting from the Homeless Management Information System, which reports data from shelters and housing programs in Olympia and Thurston County.

  • If someone wants to offer time or services in order to help address the current needs, where should they go? Who would be a good contact?

    KathyZ asked 4 months ago

    Hi Kathy. Thanks for your interest in getting involved! Check out this Resource Provider Guide. I'm sure any of them would be thrilled to have your help.

  • I have read the decisions from the 9th Circuit Court regarding the constitutional rights of homeless to be able to sleep on public property when there is not enough housing is available. I think the most resent ruling said indoor shelter at night Does that mean that if there are enough spaces the city can remove every homeless person and start enforcing all the other laws. I assume that the Attorney General made a ruling for the State, then the City Attorney made an interpretation. Can copies of those decisions, or however the actual path this travels, be made available for the public? It would be interesting to see how each city has interpreted the ruling. Thank you

    CathyPfeil asked 5 months ago

    Hi Cathy, 

    We posted a memo in the News Feed that details how the City now interprets the ruling and how we got there. You can see it here: https://engage.olympiawa.gov/homeless-response/news_feed/city-clarifies-interpretation-of-ninth-circuit-court-ruling

  • Why are people Allowed to camp in public places and under the bridge?

    Ceschrieve asked 5 months ago

    People are not “allowed” to camp in public places or under the bridge. They do not have the City’s permission to be there. However, the homelessness crisis in Olympia is overwhelming and the City has extremely limited resources. We have to choose what we address, when we address it, and how we address it very carefully.

    We must prioritize public health and safety concerns.

    We have completed several short-term actions to mitigate those concerns at the 4th Avenue Bridge site (shrinking the footprint to remove activity away from the most fragile and risky areas, adding temporary fencing, increasing frequency of garbage pick-ups, installing portable toilet).

    The encampment will be removed when the City is fully prepared. We understand the community’s frustration, but removing the encampment without the right strategies in place will only see it pop up in another unsanctioned location.

    We are currently working toward some longer-term approaches to addressing homelessness in Olympia as part of the community-wide Homeless Response Plan. We encourage you to get involved.

  • When will the encampment under the 4th ave bridge be removed? It’s unacceptable that it’s taking this long. I drive by that encampment every day on my way home and it’s disgusting to see the graffiti and the garbage and junk everywhere. This should have been handled already and it’s completely disheartening that it hasn’t. Olympians have compassion for homelessness but this is just ridiculous. Olympia was beautiful and welcoming and is now just a simmering crockpot of crackheads and drug users. Enough is enough. Enabling people isn’t going to solve the problem. DO something.

    akjah5 asked 6 months ago

    We do not yet have a date for the permanent cleanup of the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge. The short-term actions we planned to mitigate the public health and safety concerns at the site have all been completed (shrinking the footprint to remove activity away from the most fragile and risky areas, adding temporary fencing, increasing frequency of garbage pick-ups, installing portable toilet).

    The encampment will be removed when the City is fully prepared. We understand the community’s frustration, but removing the encampment without the right strategies in place will only see it pop up in another unsanctioned location.

    We are currently working toward some longer-term approaches to addressing homelessness in Olympia as part of the community-wide Homeless Response Plan. We encourage you to get involved.

  • After reading the responses to these questions, the deep level of denial about the real issue is even more apparent. Olympia’s problem is not just homelessness; it’s meth and heroin use. Why did the number of tents downtown rapidly jump from 30 to over 300? Because word on the streets among vagrant addicts is “go to Olympia, where you’ll be allowed to do whatever you want with no repercussions.” It is extremely frustrating to many of us taxpaying citizens that our hard earned money is going towards catering to these addicts and thieves who are destroying our city, and city council clearly doesn’t get it. Of course we want people who are down on their luck to get the help they need to turn their lives around via the mitigation site and other resources. The others who refuse the help and would rather live in tents in the woods or under bridges surrounded by garbage and filth and random stolen items are on drugs, period. No sober person would choose to live that way. So, my question is, how much longer is this denial going to go on? How much longer is city council going to pretend that people are living this way because of a lack of affordable housing? Don’t they realize that no housing is ever going to be affordable if any money a person gets, whether it be from panhandling or theft, is going straight to their meth or heroin habit? Also, aren’t drugs still illegal?

    hqk3 asked 6 months ago

    The City is aware that there are many causes of homelessness in Olympia including lack of affordable housing, mental health issues, and yes, drug addiction. We are equally frustrated by the current lack of resources to deal with each of these.

    To address your drug question directly, yes, drugs are still illegal. OPD makes arrests for drug-related crimes and they are prosecuted according to the law. Unfortunately, being incarcerated does very little to help individual’s addiction issues.

    The Homeless Response Plan process that is happening now (led by a diverse group of community members) is looking deeply into the root causes of homelessness and how we, as a community/region, can work together to create strategies to address all of them.

    To be clear, this is not something the City is going to be able to do on its own. Which is why this process is so important. I encourage you to get involved wherever you can.

  • I notice the committe/work group team is all white. Do you think that might be limiting? Need to see better inclusion.

    Sharon.taubel asked 6 months ago

    Hi Sharon,

    It is very important to us that the Work Group represent a diversity of perspectives and life experiences, including racial diversity.

    While at first glance the members on the Work Group may not appear racially diverse, we do have members who bring racially diverse perspectives. Also, note that not all members are pictured as of this writing.

    Together, the entirety of the group represents a broad and inclusive definition of diversity, including diversity of race, age, income level, educational attainment, gender identification, professional knowledge and expertise, and degree of personal experience with homelessness. 


  • When will the city remove the camp under the 4th Avenue bridge? It's unacceptable that isn't a top priority. That area adjacent to sensitive chinook salmon habitat, defacing public infrastructure, illegal drug use -- absolutely unacceptable. The people there are trespassing and need to move to a sanctioned area immediately.

    OLY TAXPAYER asked 7 months ago

    As mentioned in a couple other answers here, dealing with the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge is actually our top priority right now. We are actively working on it, but these things take time and planning. You can see some of the specifics about what is happening in the the question that begins, "I am interested in what the plan is..."

  • In the last week there has been a few camp site pop up around Yeager park area. One that is a little alarming is on the old dump site on cooper point, behind sonic, which also butts up to the back side of friendly village, which happens to be a senior park. These are vulnerable people and I’m talking about the seniors. There is a well beatin path that lead from there camps to the back side of are park. There are signs posted no camping but it has not deterred them. Is the city going to allow this?

    Trcutler asked 7 months ago

    The City is aware of the unsanctioned encampments in the Yauger Park area and we will be addressing them, however, we have to prioritize how we use the few resources we have.

    We recently completed a major removal of an encampment from the City-owned parking lot on the corner of State and Franklin and we are currently working to address the encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge, which has raised serious health and safety concerns. After we have done this, we will be able to move on to other encampments.

    All of these things take time. Thank you for your patience as we build the partnerships, summon the resources and develop plans for how to address each encampment.

  • Hi, I am new to the page and was wondering why the newsfeed stories are not current, most show one to two months old? Thanks Alan

    Alan asked 7 months ago

    With our homeless response efforts, sometimes things happen very quickly - sometimes they happen more slowly. Near the time we built this site a lot of major milestones were happening in rapid succession. The things we are working on now are taking a little more time.

    I'd encourage you to sign up for our Homeless response E-newsletter (olympiawa.gov/subscribe) which has a lot of detailed information each week. From those we will usually pull anything more major that is "news-worthy" and add it to the News feed here.

  • I am interested in what the plan is for the camp that has been created under the bridge since moving them off State Street. Thanks, Alan

    Alan asked 7 months ago

    City staff have been in communication with the Department of Ecology regarding the unauthorized encampment under the 4th Ave. Bridge. Staff are also in ongoing talks with the campers under the Bridge.

    Long-term and when the timing is right, our plan is to remove the encampment.

    In the meantime, for the short-term, we are taking interim measures to address the health and safety issues we are all (community, ecology and the City) concerned about: 

    • We want to shrink the footprint of the encampment to move activity away from the most fragile and risky areas of the bridge.

    • We will put temporary fencing in place.

    • We currently have a crew coming to the encampment every Friday to clear out garbage. We plan to increase the frequency of the garbage pick ups.

    • We plan to place a portable toilet on the site to abate the concerns about water contamination.

  • Is the Kaiser bike park going to be for the homeless to ride their stolen bikes in? I don’t think the city needs to worry about new projects until it comes up with a solution to the trashing of our city the citizens are being firced to endure. Speaking of which... I’m very unimpressed with the timeline for fixing the problem. It will be October before anything is even started??!? This summer is going to be awful🤢

    LitterHater asked 7 months ago

    The future bike park will be open to anyone who loves the fun and challenge of mountain biking.  It should be inclusive to all, no matter their housing status.

    While homelessness does presents a significant challenge for our city and for our resources, Olympia residents still expect their City government to serve them as effectively as possible.  That means, we still fix roads, still pick up garbage, still respond to fires and crimes, still create and maintain parks, and still plan for our community’s future.

    The timeline for City’s work developing a long-term response to homelessness does take us into October.  In the meantime, the City continues to execute our emergency response, including operating a mitigation site, establishing the Plum Street Tiny House Village, supporting several local day shelters to move to 24/7 operations and working with faith-based organizations interested in creating tiny houses on their property.

    We’re glad you found Engage Olympia. We want this to be a platform where our residents can engage with the City and each other in meaningful and respectful ways.  We need to hear thoughtful voices to tackle the serious issues before us.  We will all work better, together, that way.

  • Hello, We represent Olympia Photography & Information, a news and photography page based in Olympia, WA. We are reaching out to the City of Olympia for comment in regard to the current conditions happening on city of Olympia property along Percival Creek in Olympia. If you are unaware of what we are referring to we will provide links to our recent coverage below: Percival Creek Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=280677662629095 Percival Creek Part 2: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=288701561826705 Percival Creek Part 3: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=289412621755599 Percival Creek Part 4: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=290879521608909 Percival Creek Part 5: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=291912351505626 Percival Creek Part 6 & 7: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Olympia-Photography-Information-245912262772302/photos/?tab=album&album_id=293311258032402 Before we publish the next part in this series we are reaching out for any comment the City of Olympia has in regards to what is happening on city owned property along Percival Creek. Thank you for your time, Olympia Photography & Information

    Olympia Photography asked 7 months ago

    First of all, thank you for the opportunity to respond to your series.  Your photographs are clear evidence of the emergency level of homelessness we’re seeing in Thurston County – with much of it centering in Olympia.

    The City is very much aware of the encampment currently in Percival Creek, as we are of many unsanctioned camps on both public and private land.  We share your and the community’s frustrations and concerns for health and safety, particularly with the Percival Creek encampment.  The City has removed encampments from that site multiple times only to see them return.

    Right now, we are using limited city resources to tackle a huge regional crisis.  Frankly, we simply do not have the means to monitor all the vacant property that could be or have been used for unsanctioned camping.

    Having said that, we will be addressing Percival Creek.  However, we have to prioritize how we use the few resources we do have.  Right now, we are focused on the Downtown core.  As you may know, we just completed a significant removal of an unsanctioned encampment from the “Smart Lot” on the corner of State and Franklin. 

    There is a large encampment under the 4th Avenue Bridge that raises similar health and safety concerns as Percival Creek.  We are working to build the partnerships, summon the resources and develop a plan for how to address that encampment.  We will have to address the bridge before we can begin to return to Percival Creek.

    We appreciate the work you’re doing to document the impacts of homelessness in our community.  This crisis is very much on the radar of the City of Olympia.  We are doing our best to balance the need to maintain the health, safety and vibrancy of our beautiful city with the imperative to address this humanitarian crisis in a way that treats those caught up in it with compassion and dignity.

    We just cannot do this alone.  We need help. We need regional and state resources to come to bear.  We need the energy and the wisdom of our community to guide us.  The City will be launching a community-based approach to finding strategies to address homelessness long term.  We need our residents to be aware, stay informed and participate where and when they can.

    We need your help in doing that.


  • Just setting up another Quixote Village means you would probably reach maybe 50 people but then will essentially forsake everybody else... Of course you could try to optimize the next village with something like "earthbag construction" (as cheap as dirt and you can dig bunker layers if you need more space) but you're still going to run out of real estate before you run out of people who need help... This guy built a $150 bike camper, why not try something like that? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiejAhol4Ps

    MuggleBornNerdyVegan asked 7 months ago

    Thanks for participating! This seems like it might fit better in the Ideas board. Then other people can see what you are suggesting and show their support by clicking the heart. Would you mind adding it over there?