New overnight shelter will track vulnerability of homeless adults in Olympia

Organizers of a new 42-bed shelter have sharpened their strategy for getting Olympia’s homeless people off the streets.

The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter will open Nov. 1 at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE. One critical tool for the shelter will be a “vulnerability index,” which determines a client’s fragility.

The index is obtained through a survey of the client’s background, housing history, health conditions, personal trauma and any drug abuse. Clients with the highest risk of dying will receive a higher priority for shelter beds.

Certain conditions heighten vulnerability, such as cirrhosis of the liver and AIDS. Inspired by the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, the survey includes questions for U.S. military veterans, according to an online sample.

The data will help track the shelter’s effectiveness and improve coordination among local resource providers, said Meg Martin, shelter program director.

“Our goal is to assess every unsheltered person in Olympia,” Martin said. “It’s our goal to get them inside.”

At an informational meeting last week, Interfaith Works shared the shelter’s goals for serving single homeless adults year-round. The shelter is committed to cultivating personal responsibility among guests, Martin said, and some shelter beds will be assigned before opening night.

Although the shelter will have no sobriety requirements, all clients must sign an agreement that requires good behavior during their stay. The shelter prohibits drugs, littering, yelling, fighting and panhandling in the vicinity. No high-risk sex offenders will be allowed. The shelter will offer snacks, but no hot meals.

Organizers said a minimum of two paid staff members will be on the site at all times. The shelter will also work in tandem with the SideWalk program to move the homeless toward permanent housing.

“The shelter is a way to stabilize people and get them on their feet,” said Danny Kadden, director of Interfaith Works, a South Sound consortium of faith communities. “We just need to move forward on the shelter side as we focus on the re-housing side.”

First Christian Church had sheltered homeless families for seven years until this summer, when the new Pear Blossom Place shelter opened downtown. Before arranging a deal with the church, Interfaith Works had previously tried four times to find a location for a 24-hour shelter. Those attempts were met with opposition from some business owners.

The city has notified nearby property owners about the new overnight shelter at First Christian Church. The church has always been a good caring neighbor, said Suzanne Fair, co-owner of Olympia Copy and Printing, which has been across the street for nearly 30 years. Another homeless shelter is not her first choice for the site, Fair said, but she still praises the effort.

“We applaud them for how structured they’re making it,” Fair told The Olympian about the new shelter. “They’ve got a great plan.”

The area surrounding the new shelter has been known to attract unsocial behavior, but Fair said she doesn’t worry about the shelter itself. In addition to vandalism, Fair said she sees drug deals in front of her business at Franklin Street and Seventh Avenue. She also finds condoms in the bushes and needles in the stairwell, with the latter sometimes doubling as a bathroom.

Many business owners feel powerless to stop this activity, Fair said, adding that she’s not sure whom to blame.

“Is it the homeless? I don’t know how much of a correlation there is,” she said. “Olympia has got bigger problems.”