Olympia nonprofit that connects homeless people to help risks running out of money

The nonprofit that refers homeless adults in Thurston County to more than a dozen housing and shelter programs says it risks having to end that service without emergency funding.

Sidewalk operates the coordinated entry program for adults in Thurston County, prioritizing people’s needs to ensure the most vulnerable are connected to services. In recent years, it has averaged more than 1,100 new clients per year.

Sidewalk’s coordinated entry program costs $179,000 a year to operate. Until recently, its only public funding was $30,000 from Thurston County, with the rest covered by donations and grants.

Similar programs are offered to families through Family Support Center of South Sound and young people through Community Youth Services.

In early January, Sidewalk Executive Director Phil Owen warned city and county leaders the organization was on track to run out of money by the end of February and would have to lay off staff.

It has since secured $20,000 from Thurston County and $12,500 from the city of Tumwater. The city of Lacey committed $55,000 a year to support Sidewalk’s program at the Lacey Veterans Services Hub.

Sidewalk has asked Olympia for $27,500 to help keep coordinated entry going until March, the same month Sidewalk hosts its largest fundraiser of the year.

But Olympia City Council members said Tuesday they want to have a larger discussion about public funding for the three coordinated entry programs before committing the money. Instead, the council will consider allocating $10,000 at its meeting next week.

Council member Jim Cooper, who leads the council’s finance committee, noted the city has come up with $6.5 million for homeless services in recent months.

“I don’t feel like it’s prudent to throw another $30,000 on top of that without asking a few more questions and having a better system picture,” he said.

Even if the council approves the $10,000, Owen said Sidewalk will be cutting it close by March.

“We don’t have a lot of certainty right now,” he said after Tuesday’s council meeting.

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Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.