From: Interfaith Works
To: Eastside Neighborhood Association
Thank you very much for your letter of concern, in which you raised important issues that we’d like to address head on.
A number of those issues were discussed at the community forum held this past Wednesday. We are planning an additional community forum in the coming weeks, and would appreciate your participation at that time in order to answer these and other concerns with more depth and detail. We will send an invitation to the next forum as soon as we have the date set. We’re hopeful this will be held at St. Michael Parish and are awaiting the final scheduling of space there.
I want to start by assuring you that we are committed to an inclusive public process and that we need as much input from as many stakeholders as possible to be able to transform our community in the ways that we believe to be possible. We are in the midst of that public process. The forum on August 7th was our second public forum — we have also presented to the ODA, PBIA, CNA and many other community groups about the shelter project.
Representatives of Interfaith Works, with the assistance of private real estate professionals and staff from the City of Olympia and Thurston County, have been reviewing and evaluating a number of sites for approximately two months. We first reviewed the 10th Avenue site just 3 weeks ago as one of a number of possibilities, and had no assurance at the time that this unlisted, vacant property might actually be available. It only became clear in the first week in August after discussions with the property owner that it might in fact be available. Within a few days IW contacted the immediate neighbors, and within a week informed the press of a public forum to discuss the plans, details and possible locations. You should know that no lease has been signed and there is yet no certainty that we will be able to reach a lease agreement with the owner, even if that ends up being the preferred location.
I want to directly respond to specific concerns raised in your letter:
The Eastside Neighborhood has long been a supportive neighbor to a variety of social service programs – Bread & Roses, Sidewalk, the Salvation Army (two facilities, on 5th and 4th Avenues), First Baptist Sunday Dinners, several transitional and recovery facilities and soon the Family Support Center in the Smith Building. Additionally, Madison Elementary is both a Title 1 school and host to the “Welcome Room” for children in poverty. Our neighborhood hosts a larger number of social services for this population. We’re incredibly proud to host all these services but with the introduction of this new service, we hope the city will consider more fairly distributing these services citywide.
As you have noted, there are a number of social services hosted in or near the Eastside neighborhood, and you expressed some pride in this fact. Those of us who operate many of these services take similar pride in the fact that we have been able to do so with minimal complaints from the neighbors; we have tried in fact to improve the neighborhoods where we locate such services, often to the general applause of the immediate neighbors. Our SideWalk homeless advocacy office on 5th Avenue SE is a good case in point. When the location was proposed two years ago, several Eastside residents raised, formally and informally, many of the same concerns expressed in your current letter. With this input, we took a derelict building that had been a refuge for squatters and homeless campers, refurbished the building, landscaped, and as part of our advocacy services made certain that our clients treated the neighborhood with respect and care. Since opening, a small number of comments from neighbors have been responded to swiftly. Bread and Roses has had a similar experience.
In fact the location on 10th Avenue has also been a site for homeless squatters and campers in the 1 ½ years that it has been vacant. Similarly, adjacent neighboring businesses have had significant issues with unmanaged homelessness and people sleeping illegally on their properties. By staffing and controlling the site, we hope to improve it. It has the advantage of having no residential immediate neighbors, and is at the end of a cul de sac next to the City’s public works storage yard.
As described, this shelter will serve a high-risk population that we strongly feel is incompatible with it’s proximity to our neighborhood. The location is less than 100 yards from St. Michael’s Elementary and Pre-School, 4 blocks away from Avanti High School and Madison Elementary, and directly adjacent to our residential neighborhood.
St. Michael’s Parish has been a strong supporter and partner of The People’s House from its conception. As you may know, St. Michael’s has hosted a 12-bed cold weather men’s shelter each winter for the last 19+ years providing emergency shelter and meals from November-March. We have spoken with Father Jim Lee and he does not feel that our shelter would put the safety and well being of his Parish or the Elementary School at risk. They have a number of safety precautions already in place including the newly located entrance no longer on Eastside Street, along with fencing around the entire school property. We are committed to continuing conversations with the neighborhood and parents of students attending St. Mike’s. Dialogue with Madison and Avanti is of similar importance. Again, we are in the midst of that public process.
I have also spoken directly and at length with our community partners, the Family Support Center and Community Youth Services, who feel their shelter programs will not be jeopardized by the potential siting of The People’s House nearby. As a community we must recognize the fact that young, old, addicted, homeless, housed, ex-offenders both registered and not registered, victim/survivors and perpetrators of physical, mental, emotional and sexual violence are all already present in our community. They are in our families, places of work, faith institutions, neighborhoods, parks and public spaces. As a community we are experiencing unmanaged homelessness and we seek to create well managed programs to maintain maximum public safety. By providing shelter and day respite for those who otherwise fall through the cracks we can keep our community safer because we can know where they are, refer to appropriate treatment programs and work to prevent safety concerns.
The “low barrier” aspects are of special concern to to us. What safeguards will the supporting agencies have to protect nearby residents, workers, and especially children? If the program managers are going to eliminate safeguards at the client level, what safeguards and procedures will they introduce to compensate for that protection?
We certainly understand the concern of the ENA that those with mental illness, ex-offenders including sex offenders, and those with substance abuse problems will not be excluded from the planned shelter. Homeless people from many backgrounds experience a huge number of barriers to receiving services. As an agency we have spent a great deal of time, effort and mature reflection on the security aspects of such a “low barrier” policy, not only as they affect the neighboring properties but on our own guests, staff and volunteers. You and community members are entitled to some specifics. Here are the high points:
- Partnership with the Olympia Police Department (I have attached a letter of support from Chief Roberts) for safety trainings in and around whatever facility we end up in, and having a working relationship for emergency situations and a safety plan.
- Partnership with Family Support Center, Community Youth Services, SafePlace and others to ensure that vulnerable children and adult populations be served by other agencies that help make up the greater sheltering network in Olympia.
- No violent or abusive behavior policy (Homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism are all considered forms of violence).
- No weapons policy. Weapons will not be permitted on site. In the event that weapons are determined to be on site we will confiscate them safely and if we cannot, then the guest will be asked to leave.
- No substance use on site.
- Clinical termination of services agreements (following WAC and RCW provisions) will be obtained from all guests, and services will be terminated if the above rules or other policies are violated.
- People will only be allowed to be outside the facility in a designated outdoor space. No matter what site we end up in, we must plan and provide for outdoor space. We will have a courtyard area and if guests are congregating or lingering on the sidewalk they must go into the designated outdoor area.
- Although the 10th Avenue site is only a potential location, we have learned that there are already existing city plans to develop and improve a walking path between Plum Street and 10th Avenue across City-owned property. This shortcut path would have the natural effect of directing foot traffic away from the neighborhoods.
We hope this represents, as we sincerely intend it to be, an initial good faith response to your letter, and that it provides a useful framework for forthcoming discussions. We hope you will be able to share this response widely among your members and other recipients of your letter. We welcome your concerns, questions and life experiences, which will add much to community dialogue and will help shape the development and implementation of our program wherever it is sited.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to begin a discussion. All of us at Interfaith Works – staff, leaders and congregations — look forward to working productively together on this issue.
Meg Martin, MSW
Interfaith Works Shelter Coordinator