The One Community Plan includes strategies for responding to the immediate homelessness crisis, as well as long term prevention strategies; it aims to help people experiencing homelessness as well as the broader community.
Effectively addressing homelessness requires strong and committed regional partnerships. This will be a dynamic undertaking as we measure our progress and learn and adapt our actions based on what works.
Not everyone will agree with every aspect of this plan. However, the Community Work Group determined this plan to reflect the voice of our community, and a balanced approach comprised of compassion and accountability, both so strongly expressed throughout the process.
In March 2019, the City launched a yearlong planning effort aimed at finding community agreement around how to best respond to the homeless crisis. At the time homelessness in Olympia appeared to be growing dramatically. In the summer of 2018, tents started to appear in Downtown parking lots, growing from 75 in August to over 300 by early October. In January of 2019, Thurston County’s annual homeless census counted 394 unsheltered persons, up from 124 in 2017. Many of these individuals were sleeping in Olympia, in the woods, under bridges, in vehicles and on Downtown streets.
Concerns grew about the safety of the individuals, the impacts on the community and the environment. Community members were pleading with the City to take action, yet people saw the problem and solutions very differently.
In the summer of 2018, the City Council declared a public health emergency. Several emergency actions were taken, including opening a tiny house village and a safe camping site known as the Downtown mitigation site, helping fund an expansion at the local youth shelter and incentivizing faith community partners to host temporary emergency housing. At the same time, the City Council recognized a more planned and coordinated long-term response would be necessary in order to have a lasting and sustainable impact.
To engage the public, the City used a Participatory Leadership approach specifically designed for identifying community-based solutions to incredibly wicked and complex challenges. This approach involved creating a Community Work Group made up of 11 volunteers with different life experiences and perspectives. Their role was to deeply listen to the voices of the community to identify the strategic direction.
This process included hearing from over 1,200 people through 20 different community conversations and two online surveys. Community members engaged in important civic dialogue, face-to-face with one another and across significant differences. The Community Work Group heard from a wide and diverse cross-section of stakeholders, including people experiencing homelessness, neighborhood residents, faith leaders, business and property owners, Downtown visitors and employees, and people representing social services, emergency services, hospitals and school organizations. Despite what often seems like a polarizing topic, the process uncovered significant areas of agreement about what needs to be done.
The One Community Plan is organized around three focus area goals identified as important to the community. Learn more about each, including the specific strategies, potential implementation approaches and what the City is doing by clicking the buttons below.
Actions: What we're doing
The City of Olympia is committed to treating unsheltered people with respect, dignity and compassion and to minimizing harm and trauma as we assist them. We are working to provide safe and legal shelter options, while we manage City property for its intended use and balance the needs of the unsheltered with the impacts on the community.
You can view the list of 2020 City-led actions or learn more about some of our specific projects on each of the focus area web pages above.
How we are working with partners
Homelessness is bigger than any single jurisdiction or organization. An effective response will require a coordinated regional approach including the State, County, cities, non-profits, faith communities and the private sector.
The One Community Plan was developed through a robust public and stakeholder process and often points to the types of partnership actions our community would like to see. Throughout we heard directly from over 50 partners and potential partner organizations whose voices and opportunities for collaboration are represented.
Partners may be organizations working directly with the City, but often and just as important, they are individuals and organizations doing related work independent of the City. Many of these organizations are already hard at work. As we move forward with implementation and report on our own actions and performance data, the City can highlight actions taken by these partners.
Is your organization implementing something called for in the One Community Plan? Let us know at the email below.
Measuring our progress
By following the strategies identified in the One Community Plan, the City and partners are taking essential steps toward our goal of a healthy, safe and housed community. The plan also includes key metrics for each focus area, which will be available on an online dashboard later this year. The dashboard will include both at-a-glance information and more in-depth stories.
The City is committed to collecting data to track and report on progress. Data will also help us continue to learn what’s working and make adjustments to our actions when needed. Click on the “Homelessness Point in Time Count Data Story” under the Featured Links section on this page to learn more about how data from the annual Homelessness Point in Time Count and Coordinated Entry helps us better connect individuals and families to shelter, housing, and services.
Frequently asked questions
How many people are experiencing homelessness in our city?
What should I do if I am experiencing homelessness right now?
Washington State requires each county to do a census of individuals experiencing homelessness. This large one-day event in January each year is called the Point in Time (PIT) census. The PIT is administered by Thurston County and provides a countywide count of people experiencing homelessness.
In 2019, the PIT reported 800 individuals experiencing homelessness countywide, including 394 unsheltered, meaning they slept in a place not meant for human habitation the night before. Learn more on Thurston County's homelessness web page.
It is difficult to get an exact number during the PIT because not everyone experiencing homelessness is located or chooses to participate on the day of the count. The PIT count is done primarily by volunteers who spend an entire day filling out surveys across the county. Based on informal observations in the field, Thurston County posits the number of people who are unsheltered countywide is probably more like 800-1000 individuals.
How is the City responding to homelessness in light of COVID-19?
Contact Thurston County’s Coordinated Entry Shelter and Housing Hotline at 1-844-628-7343. Various forms of assistance are available, depending on your individual or family needs.
What is the relationship between Olympia’s Plan and the County’s Homeless Crisis Response Plan?
The City is working closely with Thurston County to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The County has received funding through the federal CARES Act for COVID response, along with additional grants from the state of Washington to help protect unhoused individuals. The County and City’s COVID response efforts related to homelessness includes:
- Significantly increase access to hygiene facilities. The City has deployed hygiene stations including bathrooms and handwashing stations throughout the city. The City also deployed a hygiene facility at the mitigation site that includes showers and restrooms connected to the sewer and water infrastructure. The County has deployed a similar hygiene facility to New Hope Community and the Interfaith Works shelter at First Christian Church. The City and County are also helping to fund Build A Bus’s a new roving shower service.
- Instilling safety measures in local shelters. Local shelter providers have made changes to allow for six feet of separation between shelter beds, and where possible expanded hours to 24/7. Because new social distancing guidelines have reduced capacity at the shelters, the City is assisting by opening use of a medical office building at 2828 Martin Way that the city purchased in 2018. The building is being used to expand shelter capacity for up to 30 individuals, with management provided by Interfaith Works. The County is also providing COVID testing events at the shelters.
- Providing funding to create additional space for those displaced by 6-foot separation policies. Same as above.
- Identifying and staffing locations for quarantine and isolation.
- Expanding outreach to encampments. Trauma informed outreach workers are delivering food, water, and information about how to stay safe to people residing in encampments.
- Directing funds to eviction prevention programs. The City of Olympia has directed $100,000 to the United Way’s COVID 19 Fund, which has been leveraged with additional funding from other jurisdictions and community members. United Way is contracting with Community Action Council to direct funds to people at risk of losing their homes due to COVID impacts. Thurston County also received a $3.1m grant from the Department of Commerce for eviction prevention and rental assistance. Community Action Council is also managing this program. More information is available at their website.
What are the City’s policies and procedures for clearing encampments?
Thurston County oversees implementation of a 5-Year Homeless Crisis Response Plan which guides policy, funding and practices of local service providers who make up our region’s homeless crisis response system. Olympia’s One Community Plan is an extension of and supports implementation of the County’s 5-Year Plan. While both are aimed at helping individuals experiencing homelessness, Olympia’s plan also addresses the impacts of the homelessness crisis on the broader community.
Strategies in both plans aim to improve and expand:
- Data quality and reporting,
- Temporary shelter,
- Affordable and supportive housing,
- Access to employment, and
- Treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
What is the Olympia Police Departments approach to public safety as it relates to homeless response?
At present time camp removal and displacement of people is discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Thurston County Public Health and will be assessed on a case by case basis depending on impacts to the environment, public safety and user conflicts. Meanwhile, the City continues to monitor city-owned properties to prevent new camps from establishing.
The City is using an interim cleanup policy for public property. This is operating guidance and each case is evaluated accordingly. Considerations include public safety, including for the people who inhabit the camps, if there is potential for significant environmental impacts, potential user conflicts, and available resources. Several City teams may be involved, such as homeless response, crisis response, peer navigators, ambassadors, clean team, code enforcement, police, fire and public works.
When the City of Olympia removes an encampment on public property, we provide a minimum 72-hour notice to everyone that would be affected by the move. We look for the safest options for cleaning the camp, often hiring a contracted company that uses best practices, safe collection and trauma informed care. Things like personal items, documents, money and jewelry are not thrown away but collected and inventoried. Service providers and other community resources are notified in advance to also be on hand for support and outreach ahead of time.
Camps on private property are dealt with through our code enforcement process. Private property owners are ultimately responsible; they have had success following a similar process to that of the City. Learn more on our Code Enforcement web page.
Over the long term, our goal is that people should not have to live outside because there should be safer options and because encampments are not a long-term solution for Olympia due to their overall impact on the community. This goal was developed from an extensive public and stakeholder process to form the One Community: Healthy, Housed & Safe Plan. Four strategies were also identified that work toward the goal. Read the One Community Plan encampment strategies.
When will we get to a point where there are no longer encampments in the city?
Olympia has a unique approach to public safety that includes a Downtown Walking Patrol, Community Policing Officers, Community Court, Crisis Response Unit, Familiar Faces Peer Navigators, Downtown Ambassadors, Clean Team/Rapid Response, Code Enforcement, Community Court, and Park Rangers.
The Olympia Police Department is constantly evolving their approach to public safety by creating new programs, including best practice and trauma informed solutions. The Olympia Police department is addressing low level crimes nontraditionally by utilizing the Crisis Response Unit and Peer Navigators to support people with addiction and mental illness. Homelessness is not criminalized in Olympia, however sometimes it is the behaviors that could result in contact from an officer.
Officers use reasonable judgment on whether to refer someone to one of the programs available but sometimes arrest can be the only or best option for the individual and community’s safety. If an arrest must happen officers and corrections staff will still attempt referrals for mental health, substance use disorders, and Community Court.
How are you reaching the homeless community?
While we strive for a community where no one has to live outside, we are unlikely to be able to end all homelessness. There are a lot of factors that lead someone into homelessness. As long as there is a shortage in housing, inequality in employment, inequality in housing, inequality in education, generational poverty, untreated mental health, and untreated substance abuse we will always have people who are marginalized.
During the process to form the One Community Plan, the City hosted three listening sessions with people experiencing homelessness. Summary notes of all the meetings can be found on our About the Process web page.
Day to day, we have several avenues for reaching out to people experiencing homelessness. The City’s Homeless Response Coordinator, Crisis Response Unit, Downtown Ambassadors, Park Rangers, Familiar Faces Peer Navigators, Olympia Police officers, service providers and other community partners and perform outreach functions. A network of area outreach workers named the Greater Regional Outreach Workers League (GROWL) meets regularly to discuss best practices and coordinate efforts.
City staff are able to present on the One Community Plan and actions to your organization. Email us a request if interested.