Grappling with homelessness, Olympia officials ask: What should we do next?

Olympia looks for community’s help in creating long-term homeless response plan

Amy Buckler, Olympia's downtown programs manager, outlines how the city will go about creating a long-term homeless response plan.
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Amy Buckler, Olympia's downtown programs manager, outlines how the city will go about creating a long-term homeless response plan.

Officials in Olympia have spent much of the past year reacting to the city’s homeless crisis.

They temporarily stopped enforcing a ban on camping downtown, only to clear four camps in recent months. They also opened a sanctioned camp and tiny home village and gave money to local groups to expand shelter capacity.

Now officials are taking a step back to ask: What should we do next?

The city is launching a months-long process to gather feedback — on what’s working, what’s not working and what the city’s priorities should be — and come up with a long-term plan to address homeless.It has invited about a dozen people to lead the process, including a downtown business owner, a youth counselor, an Olympia School District board member, a commercial real estate agent and nonprofit leaders.

The group plans to host public workshops on April 20 at Olympia High School and May 4 at Capital High School, both from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It also plans to meet separately with homeless people, downtown business and property owners, social service providers, mental health professionals, law enforcement and housing developers.

“We’re not going to solve homelessness over the next seven months,” Amy Buckler, the city’s downtown programs manager, said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “But by tapping into the collective wisdom of our community, we can set a clear path regarding what we’re doing and why and build a stronger, more resilient foundation for successful long-term efforts.”

The council authorized $30,000 to hire outside help to analyze the public feedback.

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The city has invited elected leaders from Thurston County, Lacey, Tumwater and the Port of Olympia to participate. By late summer, the group plans to identify actions the city and others could take.

While the planning process unfolds, staff will continue responding to issues surrounding homelessness.

A city spokeswoman said Tuesday it plans to eventually clear an unsanctioned camp under the Fourth Avenue bridge that has grown in recent weeks. In the meantime, crews have started making regular garbage pickups and will add port-a-potties and fencing at the site.

Follow more of our reporting on Homelessness in Thurston County

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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.