Taking a cue from Tacoma, the City of Olympia readies to build its own homeless mtigation site
A group of downtown Olympia business owners is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the opening of a city-sanctioned homeless camp, arguing the city is in violation of its own ordinance on homeless camps.
The city is preparing to open a so-called mitigation site on a city-owned parking lot at Olympia Avenue Northeast and Franklin Street Northeast where homeless people have been camping out for months. Officials have said the site will have water, restrooms and garbage service for people in 80 to 120 city-provided tents.
The plan was a response to rapid growth in the number of tents in downtown in recent months, from a few dozen this summer to more than 300 by November.
A court hearing on the temporary restraining order motion could be held Monday, the same day the mitigation site is set to open.
“The City of Olympia has created a public nuisance by allowing, and even encouraging, the homeless camps that have proliferated all over the downtown…,” according to the plaintiffs’ complaint, filed Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court.
“The camps are public health catastrophes, and are already taxing public safety resources with aide calls, assaults, and illegal activities” including opiate abuse, prostitution, and violent crime, the complaint says.
Plaintiffs say the city is proceeding at a “frenzied pace” on the mitigation site, and is violating its own ordinance on emergency housing facilities, which was passed in June.
The ordinance says such a facility’s host agency must hold a meeting and notify nearby property owners, which the plaintiffs say didn’t happen. The emergency housing facility must be limited to 40 people and must be 1,000 feet from another site, according to the ordinance.
On Friday, the city issued and filed in court a waiver of provisions in that ordinance related to the opening of the mitigation site, citing a public health emergency the City Council declared in July.
The four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, all property and business owners near the Olympia and Franklin site, are listed as John Does in court documents. They say they worry for their safety due to “domestic terrorists that are fomenting trouble amongst the homeless.”
The two sides were in court briefly Friday to try to schedule a hearing on the temporary restraining order motion. Olympia City Attorney Mark Barber challenged the plaintiffs’ anonymity and the timing of their efforts.
“The city has been working very long and hard on trying to get this mitigation site up and running, and it needs to get started on Monday,” he said.