Public forum will focus on low-barrier homeless shelter in Olympia

The OlympianFebruary 18, 2014 

Psychic Sister, 109 Fifth Ave. SE, is one of several downtown Olympia businesses that support The People's House.

ANDY HOBBS — Staff writer

The public is invited to attend a forum Wednesday about The People’s House, a proposed low-barrier shelter that has generated strong opinions among Olympia business owners and residents.

Organizers for The People’s House recently identified the now-vacant Olympia Steam Plant building, 113 Thurston St. NE, as a potential site for the shelter. The forum, which will include a presentation and Q&A, begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the sanctuary of Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave. SE.

A low-barrier shelter accepts homeless people who otherwise wouldn’t meet criteria for entry – such as sobriety - at most shelters.

Supporters say the shelter will connect these people to resources while getting them off the streets. Some view The People’s House as a missing piece of the multi-faceted approach to reducing homelessness. More than 60 downtown businesses and organizations have publicly backed the shelter, with several storefronts displaying a sign that reads “Another business that supports The People’s House.”

Most social services related to mental health and addiction, for example, are located in the downtown core. Within easy walking distance are the Olympia Transit Center, Union Gospel Mission, and food and clothing banks. The shelter would also provide a 24-hour public restroom, which would address the common nuisance of people defecating and urinating on sidewalks and storefronts.

In three past attempts to find a site, the shelter was met with resistance from neighborhoods that feared an influx of sex offenders and drug addicts. Likewise, critics say the shelter will further tarnish the city’s image and discourage visitors by giving homeless people more incentive to come downtown.

Located across the street from the latest proposed site is the Boardwalk apartment complex. This week, The Olympian published a pair of letters from Boardwalk residents on both sides of the issue. One letter writer expressed concerns about parking issues and the site’s proximity to family gathering spots such as the Hands On Children’s Museum and Percival’s Landing. The other letter writer said the shelter will meet the basic needs of homeless people who have nowhere else to turn, and noted that she has never “felt threatened or unsafe” while walking in that area.

The People’s House is a program of Interfaith Works, which is a consortium of faith communities. Along with private donations, the shelter would be funded with $400,000 from Thurston County and $35,000 from Olympia. The project will move forward with a public hearing process after organizers file for a city permit.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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