That’s thanks to a $4,000 cash infusion from the city’s Parking and Business Improvement Area, a district downtown that charges businesses for downtown cleanup and marketing. The seven ambassadors now will work from 11 a.m.-8 p.m., said program director Rob Richards. They previously worked six hours a day, five days a week.
The ambassadors’ responsibilities include giving simple directions to visitors, directing people to social services, teaching people how to use parking meters, and cleaning up the city core. It’s an extension of a $50,000 program that started around the beginning of August as a pilot project, one that the council is considering funding permanently in its 2013 budget.
Capital Recovery Center, an Olympia nonprofit, runs the program under the direction of the city.
“What we’re hearing from business owners downtown has been really positive, actually,” Richards said. “They’ve been utilizing ambassadors, giving them a call.”
Two of the ambassadors spend their time meeting, greeting and directing people on the streets. Five others work on the Clean Team, cleaning sidewalks and alleys. One of the Clean Team members occasionally joins the two traditional ambassadors.
Dressed in blue and gold with hats that say “Downtown Ambassador,” the seven cover the downtown core, from Water Street to Plum Street, Legion Way to State Avenue.
Since August, ambassadors have hauled out more than 450 bags of trash, referred more than two dozen people to housing programs and made more than 2,000 contacts with downtown shoppers and business owners, according to the city.
It’s part of the city’s ongoing project to address so-called nuisance behaviors downtown — chronically drunk people urinating on the sidewalk, drug-dealing and related needle litter, people blocking sidewalks, and aggressive panhandling. The city also has attempted to ban high-alcohol, single-serve drinks; its working with bars to prevent overserving patrons. And it’s “placemaking” — sprucing up parts of downtown such as the city’s artesian well.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe picked up the ambassador idea from a similar program in Spokane. The idea is that ambassadors can address some nuisance behaviors and free up police — who spend a lot of time on such activities — to focus on more serious matters. Ambassadors can’t make arrests, but they can ask people to move on.
Richards said the group has been successful in clearing out drug dealers from alleys just by being present, scrubbing things down and making themselves known.
“I tell ’em, you know, just walk through there once an hour and just say hi to everybody,” he said. “It’s not a comfortable place to break the law or do some of the stuff that they used to do.”
Richards said he hopes the council maintains the extended hours in next year’s city budget.
“It’s really important,” he said.