Proposed shelter’s radical approach rankles Olympia residents and business owners
To get a spot in a shelter, you must abide by the rules. In most shelters this means no pets, identification required and men and women sleep separately.
A new shelter proposed for Olympia would impose none of these restrictions.
The People’s House would be open to those with criminal histories and to registered sex offenders. It would not require people to be sober when they arrive, as is the case at other area shelters.
Interfaith Works, a social service nonprofit representing Thurston County churches, is looking for a location in Olympia’s downtown for a shelter to be called The People’s House.
As is often the case with proposed shelters, neighbors are concerned.
Residents near downtown Olympia say the shelter would attract sex offenders and would be too close to an elementary and high school.
The People’s House is based on a “shelter first” model, which contends that people must first have shelter before they can address mental health, chemical addiction, criminal background or employment issues.
The shelter would be managed by Interfaith Works. The proposal came out of a number of regional conversations between churches, homeless service providers and officials from Thurston County and Olympia governments.
Interfaith Works Executive Director Daniel Kadden said the shelter addresses a critical need.
Homelessness has persisted in the area despite Thurston County’s 10 Year Plan to reduce homelessness by 15 percent.
“By all counts, we have made little or no progress,” Kadden said.
Existing services don’t help all who need them, he said. For example, Thurston County shelters will not allow sex offenders and sometimes bar people who have felony records.
Interfaith Works is considering a property at 1011 10th Ave. SE in Olympia.
The Thurston County Board of Commissioners approved $400,000 to remodel the building there and pay for the first year of operations.
Many businesses and residents are displeased with the location. They have asked Interfaith Works to consider a new location, and they asked the Olympia City Council to deny the necessary permits for the shelter.
Cecilia Mikler, owner of Bonjour Cupcakes, presented the Olympia City Council with a petition of 134 signatures of business owners and real estate agents who oppose the shelter.
A neighborhood group, Concerned Eastside Neighbors, has been formed to oppose the shelter.
The group has distributed informational sheets asking people to speak at Olympia City Council meetings every week until Interfaith Works drops its plans.
The group argued that the neighborhood already has more social services than other neighborhoods. A new shelter will increase drug use in the area and create a persistent sense of danger that would take a psychological toll on residents, they say.
Interfaith Works has countered those claims, arguing that people with mental illness, addiction, and criminal histories are most often excluded from shelter and housing. This population doesn’t tend to be violent, they added.
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