Posted October 23, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in News

New Homeless Shelter Coming to Downtown Olympia

By Felix Asherah Chrome

A new overnight emergency shelter is opening in downtown Olympia on Nov. 1. Interfaith Works is opening the year-round shelter, which will operate from the basement of the First Christian Church on Franklin Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. According to their website, the new shelter will have 42 beds for “vulnerable adults living on the streets” open every night.

Interfaith Works has been working to open a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter called The People’s House. This new project extends directly from the work done to open The People’s House, and remains in line with many of the goals and underlying philosophy set out for The People’s House. However, it is a separate shelter that will only be open at night, and will operate under a different name.

Low-barrier shelters operate under a “housing first” principle, meaning that they strive to provide immediate shelter to houseless people as a starting point. Then other issues that contribute to chronic homelessness can be addressed without requirements that make housing more inaccessible.

Many traditional shelters require sobriety or a commitment to remain sober, participation in drug treatment programs, agreement to take medication for mental illnesses, identification, or proof of citizenship, among other rules that may create obstacles for people who need emergency shelter.  Low-barrier shelters operate without these rules so as many houseless people as possible can have shelter and then hopefully find solutions for more long-term housing needs.

The People’s House struggled to become a reality amidst political and community opposition. In many proposed locations, businesses and some community members believed that having a shelter close by would attract more houseless people, and feared repercussions from their presence. It was especially difficult to assuage these fears, since The People’s House would have had much lower requirements than many traditional shelters.

In a recent Interfaith Works newsletter, the group said, “[w]e know our work is not done, and we need to be steadfast and creative about how to provide support to people during daytime hours. However, starting this fall off knowing that we will be able to provide supportive, nightly shelter for the most vulnerable on our streets is such a relief and is helping us get closer and closer to our destination.”

The 2014 Thurston County Homeless Census states that only 56 percent of homeless individuals are sheltered, with most of the remaining 44 percent of homeless people staying outdoors. This shelter cannot fill the entirety of this need, but as a step in addressing some of the hurdles that many houseless people encounter.