One Community Plan - Focus Area 3

Members of the Crisis Response Unit assisting person on street

Focus Area 3: Increase public health and safety

Overview

What we heard

Olympians, whether housed or unhoused, want to feel safe. Olympians widely agree that the City should not criminalize homelessness, and there should be a reasonable level of accountability for crime. Olympians express support for justice done with compassion, believing this approach can change lives for the better. And there is broad support for programs that provide one-on-one, personalized support from trained mental health professionals and peer mentors.

Throughout this process, the Community Work Group heard clearly there are behaviors happening in public spaces that impact people’s sense of safety and the quality of life of our community. The behaviors our community expressed concern about include mental health crisis, drug use, threats, vandalism and various criminal activities. The Work Group heard many participants state that they understand these behaviors are not exclusively attributable to the homeless population. They also heard from people experiencing homelessness who said they often feel unsafe and are regularly the victims of crime.

The Community Work Group also heard about the unique circumstances being experienced by Downtown businesses and employers. They heard about the compounding effects of trying to run a business in an environment that often feels chaotic and where customers, and sometimes employees, do not always feel safe. They heard many community members say they will no longer visit Downtown due to safety concerns. Many business owners and employees spoke with compassion about the people they see suffering, and how they try to do what they can to help but feel overwhelmed by the problem. Many said they can’t speak about their frustrations publicly for fear of retaliation in the form of harassment or broken windows.

Key challenges

People living on the streets with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are among the most vulnerable members of our community. They also tend to exhibit more impactful behaviors, draw more negative attention, and have a higher rate of interaction with emergency services than other members of the community. For many of these individuals the road to stability is long and complex. Evidence shows that trusted relationships with steady trauma-informed outreach and case workers can help, but this takes time.

Outreach and case workers report significant barriers to helping clients with co-occurring mental health and substance use off the street, including lack of access to health care, medication and available treatment beds. Washington State law prohibits the involuntarily detention of people presenting mental health disorders unless they are posing a direct threat to themselves or others, and that bar can be high. Many individuals lack trust in the system and therefore decline to voluntarily ask for help.

The complex challenges surrounding homelessness make addressing behavior and safety concerns in the Downtown very challenging. While the process made clear perceptions of safety vary widely among stakeholders, the volume of people who share the perception of Downtown as unsafe limits success of Downtown goals. It will take a coordinated and sustained effort to reshape that perception which goes beyond the strategies contained herein.

The City’s role

The homelessness crisis has compounded an already complex challenge with regards to addressing public health and safety. This complexity requires a multi-pronged and more informed approach that moves away from a law enforcement that relies primarily on arresting and jailing offenders. The Olympia Police Department has over the last several years evolved its approach, launching and partnering more closely with new programs at the City to better equip officers and the court system to respond appropriately to the people and situations they encounter.

In the Olympia Police Department’s experience, jailing people who commit low level crimes due to circumstances such as homelessness or mental health (camping, trespassing, public urination, littering or disorderly conduct) is not effective at deterring repeat offenses. As an alternative, Olympia’s Community Court offers a pathway to more effective, practical, and personalized solutions. In this therapeutic court setting low-level offenders can have their sentence commuted if they connect to service providers onsite and develop a personal plan that they are then held accountable to.

In response to concerns about Downtown, the Community Work Group identified several potential implementation approaches to address adverse behaviors such as graffiti, vandalism and litter while also recognizing these are caused by housed and unhoused individuals alike.

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 Possible Implementation Approaches
3.1 Increase trauma-informed outreach workers
  • Focus police on reduction and resolution of violent, property and narcotics crime.
  • Expand crisis response, peer navigator and outreach – e.g. Mobile Crisis Response Unit, Familiar Faces, Ambassadors et al.
  • Train peer navigators and volunteers to assist with non-emergency mental health and medical response (including de-escalation).
  • Ensure coordination and consistency among outreach workers from various organizations.
3.2 Enforce laws that are designed to protect our community and all community members
  • Within authority, enforce person and property crimes through arrest/citation.
  • Enforce laws within our authority related to illegal substances.
  • Identify strategies to prevent activities that are or might cause environmental contamination.
  • Increase police/safety patrols Downtown and other impacted neighborhoods.
  • Ensure coordination and consistency among police and private security. 
3.3 Expand therapeutic court system to help rehabilitate low-level offenders while holding them accountable
  • Develop a Homeless Court, within the Community Court structure, to offer defendants charged with low-level offenses an opportunity to have case dismissed if they link to services and follow individualized plan approved by judge.
  • Provide court dates at time of infraction to improve accountability, increase opportunities for offenders to connect to services in lieu of jail and reduce warrants that create barriers to housing.
  • Expand options for immediate drug treatment and detox to increase success of therapeutic courts in dealing with drug related offenses.
  • Establish mediation for homeless individuals to address minor disagreements.
3.4 Prevent and remove new encampments before they establish
  • Monitor and prevent camps from establishing on city owned property, unless site is specifically sanctioned and supported (e.g., a mitigation site).
  • Provide technical assistance to private property owners with encampment activity on their property.
  • Coordinate with public agencies to develop management plans for properties.
  • Provide technical assistance to private property owners with encampment activity on their property. 
3.5 Provide support to businesses and property owners to help address the impacts of adverse behaviors
  • Create a funding program to mitigate impacts of vandalism that is easy and quick to access.
  • Work with the faith community to support feeding programs while reducing the impacts (e.g., loss of visitor parking, garbage) in Downtown.
  • Use environmental design to facilitate safety (needle disposal, alley lighting).
  • Provide training in de-escalation, best practices for limiting adverse behaviors, who to call for help, and trauma-informed care.
  • Develop tailored good neighbor policies for all facilities that provide homeless services.
  • Provide opportunities for business/property owners to interact with police, crisis response and outreach workers to build trust and identify solutions.
3.6 Establish an inclusive, common set of agreed upon standards for respecting one another Downtown
  • Include people experiencing homelessness, downtown visitors, property owners, businesses, workers, people uncomfortable coming downtown, law enforcement, service providers, artists, etc. in the process to develop the standards.
  • Find creative ways to promote the standards and feature artistic renditions throughout Downtown. 
3.7 Provide ongoing opportunities for community engagement and education related to homelessness
  • Report regularly to the community about what is being done and progress being made (i.e., radio, social media, annual events).
  • Educate on the causes of homelessness and ensure people understand homelessness and adverse behaviors are often separate issues.
  • Increase government and social service interaction with neighborhoods to share information, build trust, identify solutions and leverage resources.
  • Provide opportunities for housed and unhoused community members to talk to and learn from each other.
  • Identify/promote ways public and private sector can address homelessness.

Actions

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

Crisis Response & Peer Navigators 

In 2020 the City received a $804,000 grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to expand the Familiar Faces Peer Navigator program. This provides funding for four new peer navigators, a mental health professional and program manager.

Downtown Safety Improvements 

In 2020 the City will continue to invest in nighttime lighting and other improvements in downtown in order to increase a sense of safety and deter negative behaviors.


Results map & Measurements


We do this/So that... What we measure
The City responds to public health and safety concerns using multiple tools and techniques
  • $$ invested in each of a variety of programs
So that...   
We can employ the right approach to suit the situation
  • Total Crisis Response Unit (CRU) contacts of presenting problem
  • # of Familiar Faces clients and total contacts
So that...    
We effectively and compassionately protect people and public spaces
  • Percent of program staff with trauma-informed care training
  • Number of morning wake-ups 
  • Warnings vs. arrests within the Downtown Walking Patrol’s areas of emphasis (e.g., sit/lie, trespass, marijuana use)
  • Percent of code enforcement cases (opened, resolved) related to encampment activity on private and city-owned property
So that...    
We create long lasting positive change for individuals and the broader community
  • Number of Community Court graduates and rate of recidivism
  • Number of known encampments on public and private property
  • Number of location and duration of live-aboards 
So that...    
Olympia is one community: healthy, safe and housed
  • Community surveys of people’s perceptions of safety

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