A proposal to start a low-barrier homeless shelter at 1011 10th Ave. SE has sparked outrage from many residents of the Eastside neighborhood and downtown business owners who don’t want the facility in their neighborhood.
Dozens of people showed up to Tuesday’s night’s Olympia City Council meeting to register their disapproval for the shelter, which would have fewer rules than traditional shelters, including accepting sex offenders. Some expressed worry that the shelter would bring more homeless to Olympia, making the problem worse.
“We’re quickly becoming known as the homeless town, and the shelter will make us the dumping ground of the Pacific Northwest,” said Nathan Allan, owner of Swantown Inn Bed & Breakfast.
Interfaith Works, a group of local churches, is planning the 40-bed shelter and is considering placing it at the 10th Avenue site, though that’s not final. The facility would also serve as a day center and consolidate the shelters that rotate among local churches during cold-weather months. The concept is to have minimal rules and get more people off the streets.
Advocates hope to open the shelter Nov. 1. They hope to tap $400,000 in funds distributed by Thurston County, along with $35,000 set aside by the Olympia City Council.
Luke Bowerman, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, said neighbors didn’t learn of the possibility the shelter would be located on 10th Avenue until they read a story in The Olympian last week. He said the neighborhood isn’t against the concept but opposes the location.
The location “was a pretty big shock, honestly,” he said.
Some residents pointed to the fact that St. Michael Catholic School and St. Mike’s Tikes, a preschool, are located about a block from the proposed shelter. Madison Elementary School is nearby. Avanti High School and Madison Scenic Park are a few blocks away.
Nona White was the lone Eastside resident who spoke in favor of locating the shelter in her neighborhood. “I believe actually that the People’s House should be located in a more centralized location,” she said. “But if those locations don’t work out, I believe we should welcome this project into our community. And we can make it safe.”
Meanwhile, Cecilia Mikler, owner of Bonjour Cupcakes, presented a petition with 134 signatures of business owners and real estate agents against placing a low-barrier shelter downtown. She called for new restrictions on loitering and panhandling.
“Over the past several years we have noticed a continual rise in property crime, drug use and violent crime,” she said. “These crimes and their ever-increasing presence is leading to an exodus of downtown business.
“It is a regular occurrence for us and other property owners to be covering up graffiti, picking up used heroin needles, trash, human excrement, replacing etched or broken windows and the list goes on.”
Mikler mentioned that Bryan Kolb, who owns a number of downtown properties, gathered the signatures. Kolb thinks it’s no accident that two windows were smashed on his office building at 402 Legion Way SE on Wednesday morning. He thinks it was retaliation.
He said a low-barrier shelter will just bring in more transients, and he criticized the City Council for encouraging the effort for the shelter.
With little or no rules, “we’ll have people from all over the world here,” he said.
Kolb pointed to a pile of hypodermic needles outside his office building, and a makeshift homeless camp across the street.
Meg Martin, shelter director for Interfaith Works, has said that the shelter would still have rules. Violence, substance abuse and illegal drugs wouldn’t be allowed, and vulnerable adults would be segregated from the rest of the population, Martin said.
Pets would be allowed, but housed in a facility outside the shelter.
Homeless advocates have struggled to find a location that neighbors don’t oppose. The 10th Avenue site is the third location considered, after two locations in the downtown core met resistance from business and property owners: the MBE building at 406 Water St. SW and the Capital Recovery Center building at 522 Franklin St. SE.
“They have searched for sites all over the community,” City Manager Steve Hall said. “There have been problems with all the sites they have considered.”
Interfaith Works is working with a host of nonprofit agencies to make the shelter a reality, including Capital Recovery Center.
Heather Moore, executive director of the Capital Recovery Center, said at a forum last week that advocates had been reaching out to the community. On Tuesday, she invited neighbors to another forum Monday at St. Michael Parish.
“One of the things that I came here this evening to do was to listen to everything that you guys have to say,” she said.
“We know very clearly that the success of our project depends on the support of the community.”
City Council members reacted to the large turnout at the meeting.
City Councilwoman Karen Rogers said it’s not fair to concentrate social services in one or two neighborhoods. But Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said, “We as a council are not the ones who are choosing the sites” for shelter.
Councilman Steve Langer said “I’m sorry that people found out about it (the low-barrier shelter location) sort of through the newspaper.”
Interfaith Works will hold another forum Monday on its proposal for a low-barrier homeless shelter. It will start at 7 p.m. at St. Michael Parish, 1208 11th Ave. SE in Olympia.Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor