New homeless shelter will open this fall in downtown Olympia

A new year-round homeless shelter will open Nov. 1 in downtown Olympia.

The Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter will be located at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE. The 42-bed shelter will serve single adults while providing clients with an address and space for personal storage, among other things.

For now, the shelter will operate only at night – and under a new name. The shelter is a project of Interfaith Works, a local consortium of faith communities that has struggled to open a proposed 24-hour shelter called The People’s House.

The Interfaith Works shelter project will no longer be called The People’s House, said Meg Martin, shelter program director. However, many of the same principles will apply to the new shelter.

One goal for The People’s House has been to waive sobriety as a condition for entry. A term for this type of shelter is “low barrier,” but Martin said a more accurate description is that the shelter will “provide maximum access to basic needs.”

“We do want to continue working toward that bigger vision,” said Martin, noting that the new shelter will not house high-risk sex offenders.

Even with the new overnight shelter, a void exists when it comes to a central location for daytime homeless services in Olympia, Martin said.

“This is an incremental first step in meeting a crucial need,” Martin told The Olympian. “Daytime services are crucial for people to build up the foundation they need to move out of homelessness.”

Martin also announced the new shelter during public comment at Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting, where some council members praised her for weathering past controversies. The shelter has been a lightning rod in its previous four attempts to find a downtown location. Some opponents have said the shelter could bring more homeless people downtown and further tarnish the city’s image.

“You are graciously tenacious,” Councilwoman Cheryl Selby told Martin at Tuesday’s meeting. “Kudos to you because it was obviously a really rough road, and you stuck with it. There’s great things ahead with this whole program.”

The basement at First Christian Church had previously served as a 30-bed overnight-only shelter for the Family Support Center. However, that shelter moved to the former Smith Building at 837 Seventh Ave. SE and reopened July 1 as a 24-hour shelter called Pear Blossom Place.

The Rev. Amy Walters told The Olympian that her church was committed to keeping the basement as a shelter space. The 125-year-old church has a long history of community service, and Walters said the congregation voted unanimously to partner with Interfaith Works on the new shelter.

“Our neighbors in need right now are those who are unsheltered and living in deep poverty,” Walters said. “As long as it’s needed, it will be a shelter space.”

Funding for the shelter totals $259,500 and comes from the Thurston County HOME Consortium. The location at First Christian Church will save money on rent and utility costs as well as site improvement costs, said Daniel Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works.

“We have seen a significant reduction in funding levels for all programs funded with HOME Consortium dollars. Our program allocation was reduced by over $100,000,” Kadden said in an email. “This will fund our program adequately for the coming program year.”