The city of Lacey recently set aside a proposed ordinance that would have made it, in effect, illegal to camp on public property in that fair city.
Impromptu camping around the parking lots of Lacey City Hall and the city library has become a larger problem in Lacey, and it’s reasonable for city employees to want to stop homeless people from using vegetated islands in the city parking lots as outdoor toilets or to pitch their tents.
Mayor Andy Ryder quickly tabled the measure for the time being. Ryder said he wants instead to have solutions or alternatives for homeless campers in Lacey.
What that alternative looks like remains to be seen. But one approach that could be copied is in Eugene, Oregon, or Tacoma, where public space is made available for small numbers of homeless people to camp with supervision.
That is an idea that Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby and Olympia city manager Steve Hall also suggested recently in a meeting with The Olympian Editorial Board They also cited Eugene’s example. If done in several South Sound jurisdictions, this could accommodate a portion of the Thurston County homeless population without putting the burden entirely in one place.
Which brings us back to the city ordinance. Lacey would be acting prematurely — or out of sequence — to outlaw camping or the parking of RVs on city streets. The real problem is homelessness. Even though Olympia already has a no-camping ordinance, passing one in Lacey — which lacks the services for homeless people that Olympia has — could push Lacey’s homeless into Olympia, which already has its hands full.
Unfortunately, thousands of Washington residents are homeless in communities all along Interstate 5. It has become a humanitarian crisis.
And it cries out for regional solutions that include year-round shelters, transitional housing and other services throughout South Sound. Ryder’s suggestion to have more alternatives in place before cracking down on campers and those who live in RVs and park on city streets is a good one.
In a similar vein we’d like to see Thurston County and Lacey joining Olympia and Tumwater in a regional effort to provide more shelter and housing options. This includes operating a daytime warming center during the cold months starting in December.
To date, as Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby puts it, the capital city has done the heavy lifting. It has assisted several projects that provide emergency shelter, transitional housing and other services for those in dire need.
So far, only Olympia has tentatively earmarked funds — $100,000 — to assist Interfaith Works’ proposal to operate a warming shelter later this year. The county and cities appear to be dragging their feet.
Because Thurston County holds the largest amount of resources that could be deployed for homeless services, it needs to step up as a major player here.
The Olympia City Council wrote a letter early last month to County Commission chairman Bud Blake asking him to convene a task force to study the need for a regional warming center. Blake is only lukewarm support so far for the warming center.
“We will participate as we did last year. But it has to be a unified agreement with all the jurisdictions,’’ Blake said in a voice mail responding to an Olympian query.
A task force is no magic bullet for solving problems but in this case it has merit. The county should create one with participation by all of South Sound’s cities. Now is the time to act because cities are already budgeting for spending in 2018.
As suggested by Selby and other Olympia council members, a task force can make a complete inventory of community services available for South Sound homeless during winter months. It can identify gaps in homelessness services and devise strategies for plugging them. It could also study why some shelter beds were not fully utilized during the 2016-17 cold season and help find a location for the warming center operation.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough for county commissioners to say they’ll support the warming center only if everyone else does — then leave the rest of the homelessness challenges for the cities.
We expect more of our county leaders. Homelessness afflicts people who have lived previously in many parts of Thurston County.
It’s a South Sound problem. We need county government that understands this, steps forward and shows leadership.