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What does solving homelessness look like? At Olympia workshop, it depends whom you ask.

Among the many views on Olympia’s homelessness crisis offered at a public workshop Saturday was the need for a comprehensive plan from the city.

Which is good, because the workshop was meant to help those tasked with coming up with such a plan understand how people see the problem. But the rest of the discussion — on whether homelessness is about housing, or if it is about people, or society, or all three — suggests their task will be a tough one.

About 100 people gathered in the commons of Olympia High School on Saturday morning to talk in small groups about what success would look like and the barriers to getting there.

At a table near the front of the room, Ed McVoy said his 25-year-old son has a good-paying job but still lives at home because he can’t find an apartment in the area he can afford.

“So that helps reinforce to me how, if he can’t find a place to live, how many people are out on the streets right now and it’s just not feasible for them to find a place to live. There just aren’t enough options out there that are affordable,” said McVoy, who is part of a group working to house people in tiny homes at area churches.

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For others, housing is just a starting point. What about the lack of mental-health services, drug addiction and job insecurity? Deb Wallace, a former legislator, said for these and other reasons, there will always be homeless people. Success then means ensuring access for them to get into housing fast, with funding at the federal and state level to address the causes.

Next to her, Jim Fett was thinking on a smaller scale: meeting one person’s needs, one at a time.

“Take one individual at a time and try to help that individual have hope,” he said.

And the barriers? At a table in the middle of the room, the group ticked them off.

“Money is the first one, lack of empathy or compassion is the second one…” said Joe Shorin, board president at Quixote Communities, which has a tiny home village in west Olympia.

They talked about how hard it will be for a majority of the city to agree on a solution, the need for communication and outreach, how a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. Jeff Sutton said it is important to identify who the city can help, suggesting some might not want help or the accountability that comes with it.

“A lot of people are frustrated because they see things happening downtown and there’s no consequences, there’s no (law) enforcement, there’s no this or that,” he said.

Earlier in the week, the city hosted a separate workshop for people who live and work downtown. Officials planned to meet with homeless people, social service providers, mental health professionals, law enforcement and housing developers. They’ve also invited elected leaders from Thurston County, Lacey, Tumwater and the Port of Olympia to participate in their plan.

A second public workshop is scheduled to 9:30 a.m. May 4 at Capital High School. City officials have said they hope to have a draft plan out by late summer.

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.
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