Homeless advocates who want to start a low-barrier shelter in Olympia are considering locating it at 1011 10th Ave. SE.
That news came Wednesday night during a public meeting about the shelter effort. About 100 people showed up to The Olympia Center meeting.
A “low barrier” shelter has minimal rules in order to get people who can’t or won’t be housed at existing shelters off the streets.
Interfaith Works, a group of local faith communities, is leading the drive for a shelter and hosted the meeting. The People’s House shelter, planned to house 40 people ages 18 and up, would also serve as a day center. It would consolidate the shelters that rotate among local churches during cold-weather months.
Advocates hope to open the shelter Nov. 1, but a location must first be secured and the project will have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city. A host of other social service agencies, including Capital Recovery Center, are backing the effort.
Meg Martin, shelter director for Interfaith Works, said the 10th Avenue building is the best option right now, but there are no firm plans for the site. No lease has been signed.
The 10th Avenue site is the third location that Interfaith Works has considered. Also considered was the MBE building at 406 Water St. SW, and the Capital Recovery Center building at 522 Franklin St. SE.
But those efforts ran into resistance from downtown business owners, who argued that it would bring more homeless people into downtown.
Now the focus has shifted outside the downtown core, said Heather Moore, executive director of the Capital Recovery Center.
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 final decision from the consortium is expected Monday.
Religious, social service and political leaders have been looking to add more “low-barrier” shelter beds 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 require that residents show identification, ban sex offenders and require 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. Martin said that shelter workers would not be checking for identification, which many homeless people lack. Sex offenders would be allowed, as would people with pets.
But violence, substance abuse and illegal drugs wouldn’t be allowed, and vulnerable adults would be segregated from the rest of the population, Martin has said.
Moore said the pets wouldn’t be allowed inside the shelter but that a facility would be built for them outside.
“We want to build a safe, well-designed facility,” Moore said. The shelter would include showers and laundry as well as 24-hour on-site staff and referrals to social services.
Moore said the shelter must partner with the neighborhood, so it will have a 24-hour hot line for people in area to address concerns caused by the homeless population.
The forum Wednesday drew a cross-section of social service advocates, downtown business owners and political leaders, including Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and City Councilwoman Julie Hankins. Council candidates Cheryl Selby and Darren Mills were also in attendance.
Selby asked about the cost for the shelter and whether there is a five-year financial plan.
Moore responded that the shelter is focused on immediate needs.
Some in the crowd objected to the shelter being placed outside the downtown core, where the greatest need for shelter is, they said.
But Martin said the group needed to look outside the core in order to get a shelter up and running “when the rain comes, which is going to happen really soon.”