City plans to clear State Ave. homeless camp next week, says ‘conditions in Olympia have changed’

Olympia set to clear out tent city homeless encampment

With the city of Olympia set to clear out a tent city homeless encampment downtown, residents are looking for options.
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With the city of Olympia set to clear out a tent city homeless encampment downtown, residents are looking for options.

The city of Olympia says it will clear a sprawling homeless camp on State Avenue Northeast in downtown early next week.

The city posted notices Wednesday along the edge of the unsanctioned camp saying it would be cleared due to “ongoing health and safety concerns.” It says all tents, structures and personal belongings must be removed by 9 a.m. March 5.

The city-owned parking lot has been home to dozens of people since the city stopped enforcing its camping ban in September. That was in response to a federal court ruling on a case out of Boise, Idaho that said cities can’t prosecute people camping on public property if they have nowhere else to go.

In December, the city opened a sanctioned homeless camp up the block from the State Avenue camp. The following month, it cleared smaller camps on B Avenue Northeast and Jefferson Street Southeast in downtown, offering people in those camps spots in the sanctioned camp.

At the time, Colin DeForrest, the city’s homeless response coordinator, said clearing State Avenue would likely have to wait until a second sanctioned camp was opened.

On Friday, the city announced it would move ahead with more camp removals. It cited a subsequent court ruling rejecting an effort to stop removals in Oakland, California since that city made efforts to offer shelter beds and other resources to homeless people.

“The facts in the Boise case are different from Olympia and the ruling in Boise is relatively narrow. In addition, conditions in Olympia have changed since the September 2018 ruling…” according to a city memo.

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A notice on the fence outside the homeless camp on State Avenue Northeast in downtown Olympia. The city says it will clear the camp Tuesday. Joshua Bessex

As of early this week, there were about 20 open spots at the sanctioned camp. Some from that camp were expected to move into the city’s new tiny home village near Plum Street Southeast, which would open more spots.

“There is space available to offer people safe places to be,” said Kellie Purce Braseth, the city’s strategic communications director, pointing to those two facilities and area homeless shelters.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jeanice Crapo was sorting her belongings in her tent at the State Avenue camp.

“It’s what we do, keep moving and moving and moving because we’re told we’ve got to go,” said Crapo, 32, who has lived in the parking lot for about three months.

Next week, she said, she will probably move back to a camp in the woods. She doesn’t like the rules for residents of the sanctioned camp; they are too restrictive, she said, and moving there would mean a loss of freedom.

“Why should we have to follow rules? The reason we’re homeless is because we didn’t want to follow rules,” she said.

Tye Gundel from the advocacy group Just Housing said local groups were told earlier this month the city planned to clear the State Avenue camp but it was canceled due to snow. She thinks the city is moving forward now because officials no longer feel obligated to ensure people have somewhere to go.

“Their feeling is that it’s not on them…” she said.

Last week, city staff cleared yet another homeless camp under the Fifth Avenue bridge. They said that was due to public safety concerns, noting people had dug out the footing of the bridge and were lighting fires near a high-pressure gas line.

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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.