One Community Plan - Focus Area 1

Resident sweeping porch at Plum Street Village tiny house

Focus Area 1: Streamline rapid response & wrap around services

Overview

What we heard

Olympians strive toward a healthier community where all members have their basic needs met. They believe people should not have to live outside; there should be safer options for fellow residents, and pathways to longer-lasting economic opportunity and security. Olympians do not see encampments as a long-term solution due to the impacts on the overall community. And they want more communication and transparency from the City about its actions.

Throughout this process, Olympians said they want a stronger regional response to homelessness. Participants do not want Olympia to act alone; they want to see other jurisdictions contributing to regional solutions. Many participants said that not all shelter and services can be accommodated in the Downtown; they feel other locations in the county with access to transit should be considered.

Many participants, in particular those representing the private sector and faith community, said they felt they could assist more but need to understand how their actions would fit into a broader plan. Participants asked for the effectiveness of programs to be measured and reported on, as they are more willing to support programs with proven solutions. The Community Work Group often heard ‘tell us the help that helps’ - or tell us how our resources can best be leveraged to create long term change for individuals and the community.

Key challenges

Thurston County’s Homeless Crisis Response System is designed to swiftly move unsheltered individuals and families into permanent housing solutions. But this system is severely strained; there are not enough shelter beds or housing units, coupled with other significant gaps in critical services. In 2019, Thurston County estimated there were 800-1,000 people sleeping unsheltered countywide, compared to just 355 nightly beds available. Nearly all of the shelter beds to serve the entire Thurston region are located in Downtown Olympia.

In the short term, as we work to build more permanent housing solutions, our region needs a rapid response that helps individuals meet their basic life needs, including emergency shelter, personal safety and hygiene. But the regional crisis response system lacks the resources necessary to meet the level of need. While the County and all its urban jurisdictions contribute, strong coordination among these entities is lacking. Compounding this challenge, many of the region’s unsheltered population locate in Olympia, putting more pressure on Olympia and less on other jurisdictions to act. But the City of Olympia simply does not have the resources to bolster the regional system on its own.

The City’s role

Strategies and actions in this section were developed with acknowledgement of what the City has already been doing. While Thurston County Public Health leads the countywide response to homelessness, the City of Olympia also plays an important role: coordinating with regional organizations, implementing actions and sharing what is being learned with peer jurisdictions. Since 2018, the City has taken significant steps, including: increasing temporary shelter by opening a tiny house village and a mitigation site, helping the youth shelter expand its 24/7 operation, and working with faith communities to host temporary emergency housing.

Strategies

The following strategies and potential implementation approaches were developed by the Community Work Group. These are meant as a guide for action based on what they heard and learned from the community.

Strategies Potential Implementation Approaches
1.1  Coordinate with peer jurisdictions to implement Thurston County’s Homeless Crisis Response Plan
  • Leverage resources and assign clear implementation responsibilities.
  • Identify performance measures and communicate progress to the community.
  • Identify appropriate, region-wide locations for services outside Downtown.
  • Continue to support emergency response services and mitigation sites.
  • Align funding sources and jointly lobby for more state and federal assistance.
1.2  Simplify and increase use of the coordinated entry system to improve our ability to track, identify solutions and ensure successful outcomes
  • Ensure partners are accurately submitting data in coordinated-entry.
  • Provide coordinated-entry training for agencies and distribute analysis results.
  • Increase resources to expedite and expand coordinated entry enrollments.
  • Improve data collection, analysis, management and reporting.
1.3  Expand temporary shelter or other supported site capacity to transition people out of encampments
  • Locate additional emergency and temporary shelter sites outside Downtown.
  • Increase wrap-around services at mitigation and other supported sites.
  • Develop a 24/7 navigation center with onsite support to facilitate individual solutions and access to temporary shelter or permanent housing options per guidelines in Strategy 1.1.
  • Establish a respite center for the ill or those unable to care for themselves.
  • Work regionally to establish clear zoning code pathways (and remove other barriers) to allow for siting and establishing temporary shelter.
  • Increase access to hygiene services (bathrooms, shower, laundry, etc.).
1.4  Provide interim oversight and support for existing encampments 
  • Expand the ability of outreach workers to monitor and actively build relationships with people in encampments to connect them to safer shelter options and other services.
  • Prohibit and respond to predatory behavior, open fires, environmental pollution, structural damage, and waste accumulation on public and private property.
  • Identify appropriate campsite support and/or steward options.
  • Establish expectations/consequences for temporary encampments.
  • Consider a permit pathway for private property owners to temporarily allow people to shelter on their land.
1.5  Follow a fair and orderly process for removing encampments
  • Develop, adhere to and communicate transparent criteria for determining if and when camps must be removed, and consistent step-by-step procedures for removing encampments.
  • Minimize re-traumatization during camp removal.
  • Ensure people in encampments are engaged by organizations that provide shelters, transitional and rapid rehousing options.
  • Provide ample advance warning, and consistent communication and procedures so people have an opportunity to relocate their belongings.
  • Provide additional secure storage space so people can protect belongings.
  • Enforce the City’s RV camping management policy.
  • Coordinate with State to facilitate management, clean-up, property clearing.
1.6  Increase access to substance use and mental health treatment facilities and services locally
  • Seek opportunities to establish treatment facilities in all major Thurston cities.
  • Seek state and federal assistance to develop treatment facilities.
  • Pursue public-private partnerships to increase treatment facilities.
  • Create dedicated place(s) where emergency responders can bring people to safely detox or de-escalate from a mental health crisis.
  • Provide ongoing recovery support services for individuals during and after treatment to reduce relapse rates.
  • Align treatment programs and procedures with State and local Opioid Response Plans.
1.7  Prioritize pathways to economic opportunity that help people find longer-term security
  • Provide case management to help people overcome barriers to employment – e.g. securing an ID card, addressing outstanding warrants or fines, obtaining a high school diploma or GED.
  • Coordinate with Workforce Council, Chambers, Colleges and other partners that can help connect people to training and/or employment.
  • Leverage abilities and insights of social service agencies to develop pathway programs and identify appropriate strategies for connecting target audiences.
  • Ensure programs are inclusive and appropriate for diverse populations, ages.
  • Reduce panhandling by creating low-barrier, creative employment opportunities that helps people earn income without impacting other community members.
1.8  Identify and promote opportunities for organizations and individuals to contribute to priority homeless response needs or projects
  • Develop a central web portal that links potential donors and volunteers with local organizations.
  • Identify programs that provide basic needs that are priorities for public giving.
  • Provide skill-building, de-escalation and other related training to the community.

Actions

Learn more about our featured actions below or download the complete list of 2020 City-led actions.

Downtown Mitigation Site

As of April 2020 the Downtown Mitigation site is under new management. We are working to include more services and engagement to help participants as well as improve data collection and reporting.

Plum Street Village

Between February 2019 when it first opened and May 2020 Plum Street Tiny House Village has temporarily housed 64 individuals, so far helping 18 locate permanent housing.

Faith Community Tiny House Projects

Two faith community tiny house projects are up and running with support from the City of Olympia.


Results map & Measurements


We do this/So that... What we measure
The City participates in regional crisis response efforts
  • $$ Spent
  • Seats on coordinating committees
So that...   
We add to and increase the effectiveness of limited resources 
  • $$ Leveraged (e.g., grants, partnerships)
  • Project capacity
  • Cost/unit 
So that...    
More individuals and families are quickly connected to shelter, housing and services
  • # of people served/year
  • Percent connected to Coordinated Entry
  • Percent exits to permanent housing
  • Percent exits to unsheltered homelessness
So that...    
Homelessness in Thurston County is a rare, brief and one-time occurrence
  • Average/range length of stay  in a housing program 
So that...    
Olympia is one community: healthy, safe and housed
  • Total experiencing homelessness
  • Rate of unsheltered homelessness
  • Ratio of people experiencing homelessness to population 

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