The city of Olympia will look to hire a homeless response coordinator using a pledge of up to $300,000 from a local church.
Evergreen Christian Community in Olympia agreed to fund the position after its pastor attended a meeting on homelessness with city officials and other faith leaders in the fall.
Jim Ladd, lead pastor at Evergreen, asked what one thing would help the city address homelessness. The answer: one staffer to develop and coordinate the city’s response and connect staff, service providers, businesses, neighbors and people experiencing homelessness.
“I said, ‘If you’ll hire, then we will pay,’” said Ladd following Tuesday’s City Council meeting where council members formally approved the position. “We think we have an obligation to the city that allows us to be tax exempt.”
Evergreen Christian will donate up to $100,000 per year for three years to cover the wages and benefits for the homeless response coordinator. The job was posted Wednesday on the city’s website with a salary range of $65,800 to $80,000 plus benefits.
City officials hope to have a person on the job by May 1.
The position will fall under the city’s Community Planning and Development Department. Director Keith Stahley stressed that this is not an outreach position. He or she will be tasked with:
▪ leading efforts to open and operate a day or seasonal warming center;
▪ coordinating with area service providers and nonprofits;
▪ supporting code enforcement officers and police who respond to encampments on public and private property;
▪ engaging local churches to support temporary encampments on their property;
▪ monitoring policies that have helped elsewhere.
Stahley said the position comes on the heels of other investments to address homelessness. In February, voters approved the Home Fund sales tax increase that is expected to raise $2.3 million a year for affordable housing projects.
The city gave $235,000 in grants to the Providence Community Care Center, which opened downtown in September and offers medical and mental health services and referrals, and recently brought a downtown street outreach team in house to provide more oversight.
But to many, the city is not moving fast enough. During public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, various speakers asked the council to declare an emergency related to housing and homelessness, to repeal the city’s ban on sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks and alleys, and to clean up downtown for the benefit of area residents and businesses.
Council members agreed more needs to be done. They pointed to the coordinator position as an important step.
“This issue is affecting our daily operations,” said Jessica Bateman, a council member who led the Home Fund campaign. “We’ve made a lot of commitments … with property, with shelter, with the Community Care Center. But there’s that vital missing link, that staff person that can be there, that can make those connections.”