A proposed homeless shelter has been unable to find its own home in Olympia, Washington, because some in the community think the new shelter would cause them headaches. The People’s House organizers are currently considering a location near a senior citizens’ home as their fourth attempt to build a shelter in almost two years, but they still have a tough task in convincing the residents nearby.
“We don’t need it as senior citizens, we’d like to have a nice quiet peaceful life where we can do what we like,” one senior citizen told King 5 News. “I don’t want to come home in the evening and have to worry about being mugged on my way to the door.” Another said, “Why in heavens’ name can’t they find another place. I don’t think it should be here. There are too many homeless near here already.” An earlier proposal received so much pushback it sent the People’s House into a hiatus for months.
As a low-barrier shelter, it would help as many as 40 people a night access a bed, restrooms, food, and mental health support when they may be turned away from other shelters for violating criteria. The People’s House Program Director Meg Martin told ThinkProgress that existing shelters in the area often do not operate at full capacity. “The reason for that is they have a much higher barrier model,” she said. “When we talk about a low-barrier shelter, it’s about having cultural competency around LGBTQ individuals, or being allowed to let couples stay together, or being able to accommodate people with service animals.”
Over one-third of the Washington county’s homeless population is on the streets. A 2013 county Census cited high obstacles to entry, like coping with severe mental illness, for making “it nearly impossible for entry into the system.”
Providing housing for the homeless is a far more effective solution than policing them or leaving them without options. For instance, in Colorado, housing the homeless in a converted shelter cost taxpayers just under $17,000 per homeless person, compared to the much more expensive alternative of leaving them on the street, which costs taxpayers well over double the amount.
Unfortunately local governments do not always pursue affordable temporary and permanent housing, which does the most to reduce homelessness. One Florida county’s attempt to jail the homeless cost taxpayers more than $5 million — the alternative, housing them, would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Cities like Tampa and Miami have also followed suit.
Martin hopes the shelter will be running before next winter, because Olympia “cannot face another winter with the lack of shelter capacity that we have.”