Shelter proponents answer neighbors' concerns

Staff writerAugust 29, 2013 

Most registered sex offenders could legally stay in a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter at 1011 10th Ave. SE, shelter organizer Interfaith Works wrote in a letter emailed to concerned residents this week.

The letter was in response to questions posed at a public forum on Aug. 19 that brought about 200 people to St. Michael Catholic Church, mostly Eastside neighborhood residents who were concerned about the shelter proposal. There was no time to answer the concerns during the forum, said Heather Moore, executive director of Capital Recovery Center, which is working with Interfaith Works on the shelter project. So the concerns were addressed in the email.

Interfaith Works, a group of local faith communities, is planning the 40-bed shelter to be called The People’s House and is considering placing it at the 10th Avenue site. The facility would also serve as a day center and consolidate the shelters that rotate among local churches during cold-weather months. They hope to tap $400,000 in funds distributed by Thurston County, along with $35,000 set aside by the Olympia City Council.

Advocates had hoped to open the shelter Nov. 1., but that is unlikely. The 10th Avenue site is not final, and organizers will have to get a permit from the city and adapt a building to be a shelter before it can open.

“We do not have a date or a deadline or anything like that,” said Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works. He said there needs to be more dialogue with the community and another forum is planned for Sept. 16; details aren’t final.

Kadden said the 10th Avenue site remains the preferred location, but the group is open to other sites.

One of the shelter’s aims is to have fewer rules that keep people out of some other shelters, in order to bring more people off the streets. It would allow sex offenders, drug addicts and felons, and wouldn’t ask people for identification. Violence and weapons wouldn’t be permitted.

Organizers also plan to build a kennel for pets belonging to homeless people. People with pets often don’t seek housing because there is no place for their pets.

Many residents of the Eastside neighborhood, who have organized as Concerned Eastside Neighbors, have raised a host of concerns, including that the shelter would bring criminal activity to the neighborhood, that it is too close to schools and parks and that it would attract more homeless people to Olympia.

Jessica Archer of Concerned Eastside Neighbors was unhappy with the letter.

“We’re very dissatisfied with the answers,” she said. “We feel that the forum (at St. Michael Catholic Church) and the way that they’ve handled the response to the questions is really just trying to check the box ‘engage the community’ so that they can move on to the next step.”

One of the neighborhood’s concerns is that sex offenders would be allowed to stay in the proposed shelter, which is one block away from St. Michael Catholic School and St. Mike’s Tikes, a preschool. Madison Elementary School, Avanti High School and Madison Scenic Park are a few blocks away.

Archer said the concern isn’t just about sex offenders, but also drug users and those with felony records.

“It’s very concerning to us, you know,” Archer said. “It’s just not an appropriate location to house the community that they’re proposing to house. You know, it’s just common sense basically.”

But sex offenders are already living in the neighborhood, the letter says, and the shelter would improve public safety and prevent offenders from re-offending.

“The homeless are already in our neighborhoods, sleeping in alleys and under picnic tables, eaves and awnings and leaving trash in and around parks and churches all over the city,” the letter says. “Our shelter proposal hopes to alleviate this by being a place unsheltered men and women, some with mental illness, substance abuse, and even ex-offender status, can sleep, go to the toilet, receive professional counseling, and take the first steps toward permanent housing.”

Most registered sex offenders can constitutionally live wherever they choose, the letter says.

“The exception is the Community Protection Zone statute: certain sex offenders convicted after July 2005 with a first ‘two strikes’ sex offense against a minor and sentenced to be under community custody are not allowed within 880 feet of a school,” the letter says.

Only 1 percent to 3 percent of sex offenders fall in that category, it says, and such people won’t be allowed in the shelter. But it’s up to offenders to disclose their sex offender status because the shelter wouldn’t ask for identification, another concern of neighbors.

Transient sex offenders “have no incentive to fail to report their identity and status to any shelter,” the letter says. That’s because “they are obliged to live under terms of release as determined by a court, must report to the local Sheriff every week about where they are staying, and are under threat of more stringent reclassification or reconfinement if they break these terms.”

Archer said she was also concerned that the shelter wouldn’t require drug users to “be on the path to recovery” as a shelter in Vancouver, BC, does, which shelter advocates cite as a model.

Residents have also expressed concern that the shelter, with fewer rules than others, would attract more homeless people to Olympia. But Interfaith Works responds that 80 percent of unsheltered individuals in Thurston County reported that their last permanent residence was in the county.

However, that figure is based on anecdotal accounts from homeless people. Archer doubts that figure is true.

Another concern of residents is that the Eastside neighborhood is bearing a disproportionate number of homeless services compared to the rest of the community. The Bread & Roses women’s shelter and the SideWalk homeless intake center are among the services in the neighborhood. Most of the county’s social services are located in downtown Olympia.

“And centralizing this population, this high risk population in our neighborhood is just not safe,” Archer said.

But the letter says that spreading out social services is impractical and would lead to a “higher degree of unmanaged homelessness, with negative impacts on downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.”

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

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