Meeting set for proposed low-barrier homeless shelter in Olympia

Staff writerAugust 7, 2013 

A public meeting will be held Wednesday on a proposal to start a low-barrier homeless shelter in Olympia, a shelter with minimal rules with the goal to get people off the streets.

Interfaith Works, a group of local faith communities working on the plan for The People’s House shelter, will hold the meeting from 6-8 p.m. at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW.

Meg Martin, shelter coordinator for Interfaith Works, said the meeting is a chance to explain the effort for the shelter and answer questions. A site for the shelter hasn’t been picked, but Martin is hopeful.

“There’s a lot up in the air still at this point, but if everything gets pinned down, we are hoping to be open for this winter season,” she said.

Martin said The People’s House would have 40 beds for single men and women. The plan is to consolidate the cold-weather shelters that rotate among local churches into the new shelter.

There is no funding for the shelter yet. But the city of Olympia has budgeted $35,000 for low-barrier shelter, and the Thurston County HOME Consortium, which distributes federal dollars, has recommended the project receive $400,000. A consortium final decision is expected Monday.

“The city’s hope is that this new resource that will have an easier access will help more people get off of the street and into shelter,” said Anna Schlecht, housing program manager for the city.

Religious, social service and political leaders have been looking to add more “low-barrier” shelter in Olympia, particularly after reports over the winter showed that The Salvation Army, which serves homeless singles, was as little as 33 percent occupied for men and 26 percent for women.

Many homeless people have said they can’t qualify for The Salvation Army or won’t abide by its rules, which include having a curfew, banning sex offenders and requiring residents to dedicate most of their money to a savings account.

The low-barrier shelter still would have rules, but not as many as The Salvation Army. Violence, substance abuse and illegal drugs wouldn’t be allowed, and vulnerable adults would be segregated from the rest of the population, Martin said.

She said the group is trying to shed the term “low-barrier,” preferring to refer to it as “shelter-first.” The idea is to get people off the streets and serve basic needs, she said.

But Interfaith Works has had difficulty finding a location for the shelter. It has run into resistance from some local business and property owners, who are concerned the shelter will attract more homeless to downtown Olympia.

Interfaith Works was looking at a location near the downtown YMCA on Franklin Street. But Martin said the group now is looking at areas outside the Olympia downtown core but close enough for people to walk to social services.

“Really, the downtown core locations have been the most, I don’t want to say contested, but … sort of not desirable to as many people, I guess,” she said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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