An average of 209 people per day have walked through the doors of the Providence Community Care Center in downtown Olympia since it opened for business on Sept. 13.
The center’s staff and service providers say things are going well. There has been a constant flow of people using the showers and laundry services, which hadn’t previously been offered in downtown Olympia, but are needed for clients to find jobs.
The free clinic is operating two days a week. People are accessing mental health and medical services at a higher rate than anticipated, said T.J. Larocque, of Providence.
The center, proposed by Providence in 2015, fills several needs that Olympia’s homeless community and service providers have been asking for, Larocque said.
The center checks an average of 26 bags per day into a secure area. This allows people to leave their belongings in a safe place while seeking Community Care Center services or running errands. In the past, a lack of a place to store items has been a barrier to people accessing services, Larocque said, because people didn’t want to leave their possessions unattended.
A gateway to services
Services like the bag check area, free coffee and showers are a way to draw people in. They’re also a way to build relationships and trust, and to encourage people to access medical care and housing programs, he said.
Several service providers are already at the center, helping people who come in. Others are waiting to get their programs up-and-running. The list of partners includes:
- Providence Behavioral Health
- Interfaith Works, which operates the day room
- Olympia Free Clinic
- Sea Mar
- Behavioral Health Resources
- Community Youth Services
- Capital Recovery Center
- Community Action Council
- Home and Community Services, a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services.
“We wanted to start with the basics, health, mental health and housing,” Larocque said.
He said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of people accessing some of the services — particularly the mental health and housing services.
“There seems to be a real ease for getting into those systems,” Larocque said.
Since the center opened, housing service provider SideWalk has seen a significant increase in the number of people helped daily, said Jill Esbeck, SideWalk’s operations director. They’re housing an average of seven people per day.
But there’s not enough capacity within the organization to meet the demand. One day, 63 people signed up to meet with SideWalk representatives.
“There’s always a need for more resources,” Esbeck said.
A ripple effect
Providence is monitoring whether there has been an effect on the number of people at the emergency room at St. Peter Hospital. It appears that there has been a drop in emergency room visits, although it may be too early to tell, said Sue Beal, director of behavioral health for Providence.
On average, 22 people had been visiting the St. Peter emergency room each day seeking services that are now provided by the Community Care Center. Since the center opened, that number has dropped to an average of 12 people per day.
The Community Care Center operates on a vulnerability-based system, meaning that the people most at risk of serious illness or death are helped first, said Meg Martin, of Interfaith Works. This system has been adopted by service providers across Olympia in recent years.
“There’s a lot of relationship building so we know what’s going on in people’s lives,” Martin said.
The biggest benefit of the Community Care Center is that it’s a one-stop shop, Larocque said. People no longer need to trek from one end of Olympia to the other for services. The partners operating in the center have been building relationships for years, and the center seems like a natural progression of those relationships, he said.
So far, the Community Care Center had been operating smoothly and getting only positive feedback from its downtown neighbors.
“Most of the calls I’m getting are from people asking how they can help,” Larocque said.
Larocque said the center has been working closely with the Olympia Police Department. The two entities have had extensive conversations about how they’ll interact, and how to best build trust with center visitors.
Lt. Sam Costello said they’ve gotten a few calls from the Community Care Center, but nothing overwhelming. They’ve issued a few trespassing orders, but those are common.
The department has seen a significant increase in the number of people in the area, particularly in a neighboring parking lot, he said. A few people have reported seeing drug transactions near the center.
“Everyone expected that to some degree,” Costello said.
Overall, Costello called the police department’s relationship with the Community Care Center a “cooperative effort.” The police department is giving the center space to operate and build trust, but will be on-hand to respond to 911 calls if necessary.
“We’re following their lead at this point,” Costello said.
The city-sponsored Downtown Ambassador program, which has a welcome center a block away, also has been key in making the center work, Larocque said. Ambassadors know many of the people downtown, and often have an idea of who needs the most help.
The need is still there
The high volumes so far at the Community Care Center are due in part to the lack of other resources in town, Larocque said. Because to a lack of funding, Interfaith Works won’t be operating a warming center this year, and that will likely drive up the number of visitors to the Community Care Center as cold weather hits.
“Some people see this as a solution, that we don’t need other services now that this is in place,” Larocque said. “But that’s not true. This is only one part of it.”
The long list of people requesting SideWalk’s services shows an intense need for supportive housing, both Martin and Larocque said. If and when that housing is available, the center will be poised to help.
“With a facility like this, the minute we get supportive housing, we’re going to get people in there,” Larocque said.
Community Care Center basics
Location: The corner of State Avenue and Franklin Street Northeast in downtown Olympia
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday
Want to help?
The Community Care Center is looking for people who are willing to undergo training, then volunteer on a regular basis. Volunteer training will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 10 and 12 at First United Methodist Church, 1224 Legion Way SE, Olympia. People must attend both trainings to volunteer. Contact Brittany Stallings at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to RSVP.
The Providence St. Peter Foundation is taking donations to benefit the Community Care Center. Donations may be made online. Various service providers at the center also are taking donations.
Want to donate goods? The Community Care Center is most in need of sugar and coffee creamer.