• Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

Olympia to move sanctioned homeless camp away from downtown

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The homeless mitigation site in downtown Olympia. The city is preparing to move the site to the Quality Inn site near Interstate 5.

toverman@theolympian.com

Nearly three years ago, Olympia made headlines when it opened a legal tent camp for the homeless in a downtown parking lot.

Now the city is preparing to move the site — which started out as a tent camp but now houses “tiny houses” — to a property the city is acquiring just outside of downtown at 1211 Quince St. SE , near the Interstate 5 ramp.

City officials confirmed the plans in an interview with The Olympian on Thursday.

“When we created the mitigation site in 2018, we said it would be a temporary facility,” said Deputy City Manager Keith Stahley. “But as we embarked on this and continued to operate the facility and continued to see the impacts of the facility, we decided that three years was long enough.”

The move is expected in six months, by the end of March 2022, Stahley said.

That’s good news for some nearby business owners, who opposed the site from the start and continued to lobby the city to move it away from downtown.

“It’s an ongoing battle here,” said Pete Lea, who owns a mechanic shop on the next block his father started in 1971, as well as land directly adjacent to the mitigation site. “Every day you never know what you’re up against. … We’re very, very excited to see them go from here.

Lea was one of the “John Does” who anonymously sued the city in 2018 to stop the site from opening. He withdrew from the lawsuit after the attorney, whom he thought was pro bono, began charging him a fee, but continued his advocacy in monthly meetings with the mayor and city officials.

Lea listed a range of negative impacts, from people pitching tents and lighting bonfires on her property, to burglary of her store and theft of a car engine. An artesian well on his property was broken.

Stahley acknowledged that the concerns of nearby businesses and landowners were considered in the decision to move the mitigation site.

“We understand that a facility like this is going to have impacts,” he said.

Where will the site be moving

Olympia City Council last month voted to pay $2.175 million to acquire a 1.4-acre plot where a Quality Inn hotel burned down, not once but twice — first in May 2020, then again a year later.

The purchase agreement specifies that the deal will not be completed until the seller, Chandra Holdings LLC, demolishes the existing charred structure, which Stahley says is nearly complete. After that follows a period of 30 days before the sale closes.

The plan to relocate the mitigation site comes just three months after the city spent $172,000 to replace tents at the current mitigation site with 70 “tiny houses,” which look like tiny homes.

Stahley didn’t know how much it would cost to move the tiny homes, along with the 74 people who currently live there, but offered the nearby village of Plum Street – which cost $405,000 to build 29 tiny homes – as a starting point. comparison.

Regarding the existing mitigation site on Franklin and Olympia Avenue, Stahley said the city is considering partnering with a nonprofit to redevelop it into permanent supportive housing or labor housing. -work.

Remembering the Downtown Mitigation Site

The experience of operating a tent village in the middle of downtown Olympia was difficult from the start.

Designed as a response to a rapid increase in the number of tent camps Launched downtown for a short period in late 2018, it was both heralded as cutting-edge by some and reviled by others.

As the city prepared to open the site in December 2018, a group of 10 anonymous downtown business owners filed a complaint to stop it, in which they described homeless camps as “sources of disease and havens for dissolute behavior”. A Thurston County Superior Court judge temporarily stopped people from moving in for two weeks, but ultimately rejected the business owners’ bid to seek a longer-term injunction to stop the site from operating.

Doug Heay, who owns a construction company and bought property directly adjacent to the mitigation site just months before it opened, was one of the few people willing to put his name on the lawsuit, which he eventually dropped. in February 2021.

City plans to move the site were new to him when The Olympian spoke to him on Friday, but he reiterated his concerns about people pitching tents and leaving needles outside his property, which he uses now as a vehicle warehouse.

“There was no way to open a storefront business there in that neighborhood,” Heay said. “People just didn’t come. … Of course everyone wants it, not in their neighborhood I’m sure, but that’s where businesses are drastically affected to be able to earn a living.

What the new mitigation site will look like

The Quality Inn site is about four times larger than the existing mitigation site and could accommodate more small homes, Stahley said, creating a “more relaxed and comfortable living environment, possibly reducing overall stress levels.” the low”.

Skip Steffen, executive director of Union Gospel Mission, a nearby shelter that ran the mitigation site from its opening until March 2020, said one of the big challenges was trying to fit so many people into a small space in a dense downtown area.

“The goal was to try to get as many people off the street as possible, which is a laudable goal, but the downside is that you’ve really squeezed them into a small space,” Steffen said. “It exacerbates any tensions that might exist.”

Catholic Community Services (CCS), which employs 11 people to manage the mitigation site, recently received a $1.15 million contract extension from the city, through the end of 2022. Gabe Ash, a manager program manager for CCS, which oversees the mitigation site, declined to comment for this story, citing the fact that the city has not finalized the purchase of the new property.

Although moving the site from downtown would benefit him, Heay was not optimistic about the mitigation site’s long-term prospects.

“I don’t know the answers to any of this and I’m not claiming it, but it looks like there’s a lot of money being spent and not a lot of help for these people,” Heay said.

“They just seem to want to do the same thing again.”

This story was originally published August 23, 2021 5:00 a.m.

Brandon Block is the reporter for The Olympian’s Housing and Homelessness. He is a Corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms.