Low-barrier shelter puts sex offenders near schools

Special to The OlympianSeptember 6, 2013 

Olympia’s Eastside neighborhood has a long history of helping those in need and hosts the largest number of homeless services of any residential neighborhood. We are also a neighborhood that is struggling.

Nearly 50 percent of the kids at Madison Elementary are low-income. Many of these kids are homeless themselves and Madison hosts a Welcome Room where they can get food, clothes and support. Now we are faced with a proposal from Interfaith Works that threatens to push our neighborhood, along with these struggling kids, over the edge.

Interfaith Works (IW), with the help of the Olympia City Council, is proposing to place a low-barrier shelter, The People’s House, at the edge of our neighborhood. The shelter is labeled low-barrier because it will be geared toward the homeless who will not or cannot meet the requirements of other shelters. Unlike other shelters, low-barrier shelters provide services to sex offenders, drug addicts, felons and those without identification.

It would have 40-plus beds and sobriety would not be a barrier to entry. It would be open 24/7, serving as a day center for any number of homeless and a “hub/central intake point for homeless services in Thurston County” (from the IW proposal).

The proposed location sits at the edge of our neighborhood, less than 300 feet from St. Michael’s Elementary and Daycare and just a quarter mile from Madison Elementary and Avanti High School. This location combined with the nature of this shelter is a recipe for disaster.

To place sex offenders so close to schools (the St. Michael’s playground is visible only a few steps from the building) is unconscionable. Those with guns will be turned away, but other weapons will be allowed and kept in a lock-box.

The shelter will provide clean needles, but require residents to use drugs off-site. A wooded area, playgrounds, and the Japanese Gardens provide convenient off-site locations to do so.

It would be easy to assume that this location was chosen by misguided officials and well-meaning advocates. However, the City Council and IW were warned about the risk of housing sex offenders near schools by an officer at the July 25th Land Use Committee Meeting.

Interfaith Works only set up a public form after the neighborhood raised serious concerns about this project and its location. This shelter was booted out of downtown by businesses and developers and quietly moved into a residential neighborhood without the knowledge or input of the residents or the schools and against the advice of the police.

We deserve better.

Olympia’s Municipal Code does not address housing sex offenders and drug users close to schools. This proposal exploits that gap and we need to address this now.

In spite of the resounding message of “wrong location,” this is still Interfaith Work’s preferred location.

The community has spoken. This location is completely unacceptable.

Meanwhile, our City Council apparently needs further public input to decide whether or not kids are the best group to put at risk.

Jessica Archer is the spokesperson for Concerned Eastside Neighbors. Find them on Facebook at concernedeastsideneighbors.

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