A plan is in the works to convert the Holly Motel into permanent housing for homeless people in Olympia.
Nonprofit organization Homes First has crafted a proposal to buy the motel at 2816 Martin Way E. and create 35 housing units for the chronically homeless.
Under the proposal for “Holly Landing,” the project would serve the most vulnerable homeless people — those with medical conditions that put them at the highest risk of dying. The plan also calls for an on-site counseling center with 24/7 staffing.
Permanent supportive housing such as the proposed Holly Landing is seen as one way to stabilize and treat the chronically homeless while reducing the burden on jails, hospitals and businesses.
Homes First is cobbling together money and hopes to make an offer on the privately owned motel by September, said Trudy Soucoup, executive director. But first, the project requires specific renovations to bring the motel up to code for the tenants who will live there.
Homes First manages and leases 28 affordable housing properties for low-income families across Thurston County. Soucoup said the Holly Motel’s location is ideal because it’s on a main bus route, is near Providence St. Peter Hospital and is outside downtown Olympia.
“We’re taking some of those hardest-to-serve people that are living on the streets right now,” she said about the proposal, which will take a big step forward once the motel is purchased. “Hopefully, we can make an offer they won’t refuse.”
Holly Motel co-owner Sue Lee, whose family lives on the property, said she was unaware of the Holly Landing plan until The Olympian asked her about it this week. The motel has been previously listed at $1.1 million, said Lee, who is open to selling.
“A lot of people are interested in this property,” she said, noting that the Homes First proposal “is totally news to us.”
However, Lee and longtime motel manager Sally Powell said they support the idea of homeless housing at the site.
The motel was built in 1926. Powell said the current clientele consists mostly of homeless people, but also includes young travelers as well as residents who have lived at the motel for years. Nearby businesses have complained about troublesome clients in the past, she said, and criminals have also passed through.
“This is a low-cost motel, but we’re very strict,” Powell said of the expectations for clients. “You have to behave here.”
Sometimes homeless people stay a week or two at the Holly Motel, then spend the rest of the month sleeping elsewhere — often outside — after Social Security runs out, said Phil Owen, program director of SideWalk, which connects the homeless with housing and resources.
SideWalk works directly with the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter at First Christian Church, which has a waiting list nearly 200 people long for 42 beds. The shelter uses a “vulnerability index” to gauge a client’s fragility and priority for a bed.
The same vulnerability index will determine who gets priority for housing at Holly Landing. The index is a survey of the client’s background, health and housing history. Certain conditions heighten vulnerability, such as cirrhosis of the liver or AIDS, for example.
Owen supports the Holly Landing proposal as a potential game-changer for serving the local homeless population, and said the vulnerability index should be a standard tool for all housing providers.
“It’ll be the first housing program to prioritize the most vulnerable in our community,” Owen said. “It’s a foot in the door for a system change.”
The project’s budget calls for $1.75 million to buy and renovate the motel, according to Homes First, which is actively requesting donations. The Olympia City Council agreed Tuesday to allocate $50,000 toward predevelopment and design.
Partners in the project include Behavioral Health Resources, Housing Authority of Thurston County, Thurston County Department of Health and Human Services, NW Resources, Olympia Free Clinic and SideWalk.