OLYMPIA –– The Olympia City Council approved on Tuesday a plan to address homelessness, which officials called the “One Community” Healthy, Safe & Housed Plan.
The plan took a year to put together, according to city officials, and outlines how to approach issues related to homelessness and its effects on the greater Olympia community.
The three focus areas in the plan include ramping up services to those experiencing homelessness, improving affordable housing options and increasing efforts to ensure the health and safety of the community’s homeless and members of the general public.
“This public process occurred without knowledge that we would be facing a global pandemic,” said Amy Buckler, strategic projects manager with the Department of Community Planning & Development. “As a result, the rollout of the plan and some of our implementation has been delayed as we’ve had to adjust to new circumstances, but responding to homelessness remains a high priority for the city of Olympia.”
Despite the pandemic forcing those involved in the plan to put off certain aspects of putting the “One Community” plan into action, Buckler said the plan is even more relevant than it was just a few months ago. Changing circumstances will require city officials and members of the community to adapt, she added, and the plan allows efforts to change as the situation evolves.
“We’re set up to continue to adapt,” Buckler said.
Notably, people of color constitute 18 percent of the Olympia population but 32 percent of the homeless population in the area, according to numbers Buckler cited in her Tuesday presentation. Marginalized groups are targeted as a population the “One Community” plan is meant to serve as solutions to homelessness are developed. This also means including systems as diverse as homeless services, health care, housing, law enforcement and economic development in continuing to develop ways to help the area’s homeless.
“This is a living plan,” Buckler said. “This allows us to learn and grow as a community and as an organization. We’re going to continue to do that, to learn and grow, in the context of all three of our focus areas.”
According to the One Community plan, more than 70 percent of the community’s homeless population lost a place to live more than a year ago. Approximately 34 percent of folks without a place to live are families with children, and 34 percent sleep outdoors in a tent or on the street. Almost 60 percent of homeless individuals in the area lived in Thurston County before becoming homeless, and more than 1,700 students of varying ages lost their homes between 2017 and 2018.
Lack of job training was among the leading contributors to homelessness, although alcohol and substance abuse, a physical disability, rejection by family, mental illness and domestic violence were all listed as contributors to losing one’s home. Housing affordability, too, was a key factor, with the report stating housing demand far outstrips housing supply.
Those who compiled the report pointed to permanent supportive housing programs, as well as rapid re-housing, as effective solutions to solving the homelessness crisis in the greater Olympia area. Both approaches feed into a method of solving homelessness the report called a “Housing First” approach.
Those involved with implementing the plan are already organizing emergency housing for those who need it most. A small handful of local sites currently provide a place to stay for dozens of people in the community.
“We are expanding temporary shelter through our Plum Street tiny house village,” Buckler said. “We are supporting two different temporary emergency housing sites at two churches, and of course, our mitigation site, which is serving about 90 people at this time.”
City council members were supportive of the plan, and praised the work city staff, volunteers and other community members put into compiling the report.
For more information about the One Community plan, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.